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“Like many writers before me, I believe in coincidence and, sometimes, in the novelist’s gift for clairvoyance… It simply comes with the profession: the imaginative leaps this requires, the need to fix your mind on points of detail – to the point of obsession, in fact – so as not to lose the thread and give in to natural laziness – all this tension, this cerebral exercise may well lead in the long run to ‘flashes of intuition concerning events past and future,’ as the Larousse dictionary puts it, under the heading of ‘clairvoyance.’ ” – Patrick Modiano

cover dora bruderOriginally published in November, 1996, when French author Patrick Modiano was fifty-one, Dora Bruder gives new insights into the complex life and career of this Nobel Prize winner (2014).  From his first three novels, The Occupation Trilogy: La Place de l’etoile (1968, a prizewinner when he was only 23) ; The Night Watch (1969), and Ring Roads (1972), Modiano became a writing sensation in Paris, often using his own life as the inspiration for his work. Though he has always stressed that he writes fiction, the clear parallels between his plots and his life are obvious.  Such Fine Boys (1982), about a teenager who goes to an elite private school in which the faculty become the equivalent of his missing parents, includes such detail that it leaves no doubt that Modiano lived this life or one much like it.  Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas (1988), which he published in 1988, is the most revealing of all Modiano’s work, focusing on his real life from about age ten, in the mid-1950s.  Modiano saw very little of his parents during his childhood, as his mother, an actress, and his father, a black marketeer during the Occupation and the aftermath of World War II, were rarely at home.  Abandoning Patrick to the care of a group of circus performers living outside Paris, his parents disappeared from his life for long periods of time.  Later he was sent to boarding school and left to bring himself up with the help of his teachers, one of whom, author Raymond Queneau, became a mentor, helping him get started as a writer.

author photoBy 1988, when Modiano was forty-three, he had already enjoyed twenty years of success as a writer.  It was then that he found an old copy of Paris-Soir dated 31 December, 1941, announcing:

“PARIS: Missing, a young girl, Dora Bruder, age 15, height 1m 55, oval-shaped face, gray-brown eyes, gray sports jacket, maroon pullover, navy blue skirt and hat, brown gym shoes.

Modiano was well familiar with the Boulevard Ornano and the Porte de Clingnancourt neighborhood from his earliest years, when he occasionally accompanied his mother to flea markets there.  In his twenties, he had hung out in the neighborhood cafes. Now, in 1988, almost fifty years after the “missing” announcement from 1941, he cannot stop wondering what became of Dora and her life there.  Though he remembers the Cinema Ornano 43, he never really noticed the building beside the cinema, number 41, where M. and Mme Bruder awaited Dora in 1941.  Of his own early life in that neighborhood, he says “I merged into that twilight, into those streets, I was nonexistent.”

Stall at flea market in Clingnancourt, which Modiano visited with his mother.

Stall at flea market in Clingnancourt, which Modiano visited with his mother.

Suddenly, Modiano feels destined to learn more about Dora Bruder’s life and fate. The “fleeting impressions” he still has of conversations in the neighborhood are not “simply due to chance,” he believes. He wonders if he is “following the traces of Dora Bruder and her parents,” a suggestion of the clairvoyance he describes in the introductory quotation to this review.  After so many years since that newspaper notice about Dora, he knows that any research he does on her life will be slow.  “It takes time for what has been erased to resurface.  Traces survive in registers, and nobody knows where those registers are hidden, and who has custody of them.”  It takes Modiano four years to discover her exact date of birth, 25 February 1926, for example, and two more years to find her place of birth, Paris, 12th arrondissement.  He learns that Dora’s Viennese father Ernest married Cecile, a seventeen-year-old girl from Hungary, and when they came to Paris after World War I, they lived at the Jewish refuge inn, the Rue Lamarck.  After that they lived in hotels till Dora’s birth.  “They are the sort of people who leave few traces.  Virtually anonymous.  Inseparable from those Paris streets,” Modiano declares.

Dora Bruder with her mother and father, about 1938

Dora Bruder with her mother and father, about 1938. Click to enlarge.

A remarkable breakthrough – perhaps the kind of coincidence or “novelist’s clairvoyance” mentioned in the opening quotation to this review – occurs when Modiano locates Ernest and Cecile Bruder’s niece, Dora’s cousin.  Fifty years after Dora’s disappearance, she still remembers Dora and her parents and she has family photographs, two of which appear in this book. In one photo, Dora is twelve; the other shows her a little older, with her mother and grandmother, giving a sense of reality, not only for the author but for the reader, too.  Her cousin remembers Dora as especially independent, and Modiano soon discovers that after the point at which her name appeared in the newspaper as a missing child in December 1941, no other trace of her was found for four months, when official papers show she was returned to the “maternal domicile.”  She ran away again from school and home, and she spent some time in a “rehabilitation center for delinquent girls,” not unlike a place Modiano says he himself went to for treatment one day at age eighteen.  Dora continued to create problems for her family and school, and though her father never reported her as a dependent when she was at school, thereby keeping her name off the lists of Jewish residents during the Occcupation, their heritage was well known.

cover-suspended-sentences 2.29.59 PMReaders who know Modiano’s own background cannot help but feel that in many ways, his  continuing desire to construct a life for Dora Bruder may be a response to his own anonymity and lack of parenting for most of his childhood and adolescence – a feeling that somebody, somewhere, cares.  While Ernest Bruder protected his daughter Dora as well as he could, Modiano notes the ironic contrast with his own father, who ignored him for most of his life and then had the police arrest him as a “hooligan” when he went to his father’s house in the early 1960s seeking more support for his mother.  He continues his research on Dora’s life from his start in 1988 until this book is finished in 1996, while also writing seven books, including Suspended Sentences, his own most revelatory novel, published in the year Dora went missing.  He and the reader learn something about her life and who she is, but there are no further avenues left to explore.  Modiano does not bemoan the fact that he will never really know her in any depth, preferring to remember her secrets of escape, which “not even the executioners, the decrees, the occupying authorities” will ever be able to take from her memory.  With this book, young Dora Bruder has gained a life, however brief.

ALSO reviewed here: AFTER THE CIRCUS,     HONEYMOON,     IN THE CAFE OF LOST YOUTH,     LA PLACE de L’ETOILE (Book 1 of the OCCUPATION TRILOGY),    (with Louis Malle–LACOMBE LUCIEN, a screenplay,    LITTLE JEWEL,    THE NIGHT WATCH (Book II of the OCCUPATION TRILOGY),    THE OCCUPATION TRILOGY (LA PLACE DE L’ETOILE, THE NIGHT WATCH, AND RING ROADS),    PARIS NOCTURNE,     PEDIGREE: A Memoir,    RING ROADS (Book III of the OCCUPATION TRILOGY),    SLEEP OF MEMORY,    SO YOU DON’T GET LOST IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD,    SUCH FINE BOYS,    SUNDAYS IN AUGUST,    SUSPENDED SENTENCES,    VILLA TRISTE

Photos, in order:  The author’s photo appears on https://www.facebook.com/

The photo of the Bruder family is from https://sophia.smith.edu

The flea market at Clingnancourt is part of a series on https://www.ohhowcivilized.com

DORA BRUDER
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Autobiography/Memoir, Experimental, France, Literary, Psychological study, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Patrick Modiano
Published by: University of California Press
Date Published: 11/07/2014
Edition: Nobel Prize Winning Author edition
ISBN: 978-0520218789
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

“My legs are strong; my body is strong, a farmer’s body built for physical labor.  The world has farmers, and I’m a good farmer.  But right now I’m an elevator attendant even though such a job shouldn’t exist in this world.  Is it so troublesome to lift your hand up and press a button that they have to pass this task off to someone else, someone who could do so many other things?  If I had been born with one hand and an index finger this job would be suitable for me.” – from “The Attendant.

When I finished rcover arid dreamseading Arid Dreams, the first collection of Thai author Duanwad Pimwana’s stories ever to be translated into English, I was so stunned that I had to wait a day before even beginning this review.  To say it is a powerful and dramatic collection of thirteen short stories so understates the collection’s ability to affect the reader emotionally that it would be unfair to characterize it in such a limited fashion.  Vibrant characters, intense interactions, and beautifully controlled themes feature in realistic stories about the daily lives of the hardworking poor and those who have dreams but little or no opportunity to act upon them.  Cultural expectations play a big part in the conflicts and disasters which some of the characters face, and though these may be shocking to American readers, they are taken for granted by the characters themselves.  As the reader becomes more and more deeply involved with these stories, which show people both as individuals and as members of a broader society, it is impossible not to care about them and how they live, doing what they must do to survive.

Author Duanwad Pimwana

Author Duanwad Pimwana’s earlier novel BRIGHT is the first novel by a Thai woman ever to be published in the US.  (Citation from the Center for the Art of Translation)

The opening story, “Arid Dreams,” tells of a man who returns to a place that was his dream vacation spot when he was a student, now so overcrowded he must move to a village hotel away from the beach to find a room.  While there, he becomes obsessed with a beautiful woman wearing an old-fashioned top and sarong whom he later discovers to be a masseuse.  When he learns that she will spend the night with a guest at his hotel, he inquires about that, but though she will give him a massage, she will not spend the night.  The reasons why make him see her in a completely different light.  A similar change of opinion and attitudes also occurs in “Wood Children,” in which a woman desperate to have a child begins to carve images of children out of wood, becoming increasingly proficient. Worried about her growing obsession, her husband comes home one night with the young son of one of his construction workers, who will visit for the evening, and she is thrilled and happy as she bonds with the child. Convinced his wife no longer needs the wooden images she has been carving, her husband takes actions which have unexpected consequences.  In “The Attendant,” quoted in the opening lines of this review, the main character nears the end of his shift as an elevator operator, a job in which he sits most of the day with only his hand and his head getting any real exercise.  He is distressed that tomorrow he will again need to “have the strength to come back and sit still once again.”  He bemoans his fate and the end of his dreams for the day.

elevator

An old-fashioned elevator, with the gear and seat in the bottom left, feels like prison.

These three stories – “Arid Dreams,” “Wood Children,” and “The Attendant” are all similar in that a main character is powerless to change circumstances in spite of his/her hopes, but they are very different in their effects on the reader. Whereas “Arid Dreams” is fairly light in subject, with a main character unable to procure the prostitute of his dreams, “The Attendant,” by contrast, has no way of controlling his dreams – and his memories of the past – because of his poverty and need for work.  “Wood Children” is, by far, the most involving of these three, dealing as it does with the desperate dream of a woman for a child and the accidents of chance which determine her life and over which she has no control.

When a man's wife arrives at home at dawn, he believes she is having and affair and takes action.

When a man’s wife arrives at home at dawn, he believes she is having and affair and takes action.

“Men’s Rights,” a title which says it all, is a powerful story of cultural differences, and when it appears at about the mid-point of the collection, the reader will already have recognized that in these stories women are constantly being required to act in ways established by the culture but contrary to what they would choose to do on their own.  Here a husband hears his wife arriving home by motorbike at 5:00 a.m. and concludes that she is having an affair.  Because of this, he feels compelled to kill her, once he identifies her lover.  The couple has a violent argument in which she escapes their house, and the husband must then discover where she has gone and with whom.  Of all the many surprises in this collection, the conclusion of this story is something I do not believe any westerner will ever expect.  Its revelation of the culture in which these characters live comes as a complete surprise – unique among all the books I have ever reviewed.

A family's sudden need to move affects whether the children can go to a much anticipated fair.

A family’s sudden need to move affects whether the children can go to a much anticipated fair.

Other stories reflect other issues involving families.  The humorous “How a Lad Found His Uncle and Learned a Lesson” is the story of a naive young man whose life has always been comfortable, though he has never met his father.  His discovery of an uncle he did not know he had leads him to grow up more quickly than he expected.  “Sandals” tells of two young children whose poor parents must suddenly move, with the whole family leaving their home to cut sugarcane starting the next day.  The children will have to miss their chance to go a local fair that they have dreamed of all year. “The Way of the Moon” tells of the loving relationship between a father and son as they make special trips to view the moon and its possible effect on the writing of both father and son.

map thailandAuthor Duanwad Pimwana makes her points by keeping the focus domestic, an approach which allows her readers to identify with much of the action by imagining themselves in similar circumstances and then envisioning how they themselves would respond. What is different here is that the female author uses the male point of view (very effectively) in ten of the thirteen stories.  Two additional stories involve two people, and only one story, “Within these Walls,” is told by a woman.  Here a wife thinks about her dying husband, the top aide to a politician, and the comfortable life she has led.  His death would free her from many restrictions, though real freedom both thrills and terrifies her.  Published by Feminist Press at The City University of New York, this book will energize feminists, but its themes are so universal that perceptive male readers, too, will see how this culture, however “foreign,” affects behavior in ways not dissimilar to what is sometimes seen in the contemporary U.S., especially issues involving human rights, the role of women in society, and the need for communication and understanding.

Photos.  The author’s photo appears on https://www.catranslation.org    Her earlier novel, Bright, is the first novel by a Thai woman ever to be published in translation in the US.

This old fashioned elevator required an operator to open and close the doors and to control its stops and starts with the gear in the bottom left.  A seat is provided for the operator.  www.tripadvisor.com/

The woman on the motorbike arrives near dawn in “Men’s Rights,” a dramatic and powerful story of a marriage.  https://www.istockphoto.com/

A family sudden need to move so that the family can all cut the sugar cane the next day spoils the children’s chances to go to a fair.  https://www.123rf.com/

The map of Thailand and its neighbors is from https://www.vectorstock.com/

ARID DREAMS
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Literary, Psychological study, Social and Political Issues, Thailand
Written by: Duanwad Pimwana
Published by: Feminist Press at CUNY
Date Published: 04/16/2019
ISBN: 978-1936932566
Available in: Ebook Paperback

Kate Atkinson–BIG SKY

Note:  Kate Atkinson was WINNER of the Whitbread Book of the Year Award for her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum (1995), and was twice WINNER of the Costa Award, its renamed successor, for Life After Life (2013) and A God in Ruins (2015). 

“They weren’t stupid, they knew about trafficking, about people who tricked girls into thinking they were going to good jobs, proper jobs, who then ended up drugged, trapped in some filthy hole of a room having sex with one man after another, unable to get home again because their passports has been confiscated and they had to “earn” them back.  [Anderson Price Associates] wasn’t like that.  They had a professional website, all aboveboard.”

cover big sky

Kate Atkinson has rightfully developed a huge following with her impeccably crafted novels filled with ingenious plots, mysteries, and themes highlighted by unexpected ironies and dark humor.  This, her twelfth novel, is the fifth in which she features Jackson Brodie, a detective who never seems to get his life together personally.  Brodie has been hired by a wealthy wife to trail her golf-playing, country club husband, whom she believes to be having an affair.  No matter what Brodie discovers or fails to discover, the wife wants him to continue trailing her husband.   Unimportant in its own right, this plot thread ironically serves as a unifying idea for this book, with many bigger and more important plots and subplots, all of them unconnected until about a hundred pages into the book.  At that point, several coincidences, obviously well planned, begin to create overlaps among the characters and their lives.  As these are revealed, the reader discovers for the first time that the forty or so characters introduced in the first hundred pages here are not operating in a vacuum – except the vacuum deliberately created by Kate Atkinson to keep the reader guessing about what may happen in the still undeveloped subplots involving many undeveloped characters.

Author Kate Atkinson

Author Kate Atkinson

The book requires patience, well rewarded at the end.  The first plot, and Atkinson’s whole approach, is exemplified by the ironies in the opening quotation, as two sisters from Poland, one of whom, Nadja, has a degree in Hospitality Management, contact Anderson Price Associates in London which employs three of the men who become main characters.  Mark Price, a generic name for the company, tells these young women on the phone that the company will pay their way if they want to come to England to work and if they provide him with their papers.  Nadja has been impressed at what she has seen on Skype when she has connected with Mark Price, who tells her he has something in mind “for a bright girl” like her.  As she stares at the screen, she can see the Anderson Price logo on the wall, along with artwork, and an orchid, and hear the voices of the staff in the background, the tapping of keyboards, and ringing of phones.  She never dreams that at the end of the call, Mark Price will lock up the mobile home where he is working alone and climb into his Land Rover, heading for home. “Mark Price was a fake….Only his Rolex was real.” 

Whitby Abbey overlooks the town of Whitby, where the action takes place and where the author herself lived for a time.

Whitby Abbey overlooks the town of Whitby, where the action takes place and where the author herself lived for a time.

A quick change of scenery introduces Jackson Brodie and his thirteen-year-old son Nathan, who is bored to tears at the reenactment of the Battle of the River Plate, a miniature naval battle at a local park.  Nearby, at the Belvedere Golf Club, Thomas Holroyd, the owner of a haulage company; Andrew Bragg, a hotelier and travel agent; and Vincent Ives, a quiet man in the telecom business, whom the others consider an outsider, are on the green enjoying their day.  Their marriages and current wives, their children, houses, and daily lives are depicted here in great detail, slowly and without excitement, all part of what appears to be Kate Atkinson’s overall plan to keep the reader ignorant of the real action, with characters floating around, and the plot lines undeveloped and unconnected long enough to increase suspense dramatically.

Several accidents and a death occur along the Cleveland Way trail in Whitby.

A death and an accident occur along the Cleveland Way trail in Whitby.

A hint of mystery occurs when Crystal, wife of golfer Tommy Holroyd, begins to panic because she believes that she is being followed by a man in a silver BMW.  Then two more new characters are introduced.  Reggie Chase, whom Jackson Brodie has known from the past, and her partner Ronnie Dibicki, both in their mid-twenties, are now working for the police on cold case files, and they eventually begin to discover strange activities which involve the “golfers” from the club. As they investigate further, the men’s activities enticing young girls into sexual slavery begin to become clear.  By coincidence, Jackson, who has no connection to this investigation, sees a thirteen-year-old girl getting into a suspicious car on the street with an older man, but as Jackson is no longer in the police department, he has no one to report it to.  In the meantime, the details of the domestic lives of all the characters, their wives, and their busy children, continue to unfold, and the direction of the novel begins to feel almost random, with a huge assortment of characters and actions which have yet to connect significantly.  The character list continues to grow even longer, and the book seems to be getting heavier. 

Whitby's famed Whalebone Arch.

Whitby’s famed Whalebone Arch. Photo by Ron Jnr

At this point, it is crucial for readers to trust the intelligence and care for detail which Kate Atkinson has already proven in her previous novels.  She has planned this book to the nth degree, and it does resolve itself completely and spectacularly by the end, however complex it feels in the long beginning.  The shocking death of Wendy, almost ex-wife of the quiet Vince, the outsider of the golfing group, occurs shortly after the hundred-page mark.  From that point on, the various subplots begin to overlap, often through coincidence, and then become increasingly intertwined.  Additional deaths occur, the child pornography and the sex trade become a bigger part of the plotting, organized crime shows its hand, and the sleazy business of amusement parks and fairground activity involves some of the characters.  As the action takes its twists and turns, the reader gradually becomes increasingly involved with the characters, and Atkinson’s grand plan begins to become clearer.  By the end of the novel, every detail, every question, every conflict, and every unusual activity is resolved and explained.

Crystal, wife of Tommy Holroyd regards her Evoque car with near reverence.

Crystal, wife of Tommy Holroyd, regards her Evoque car with near reverence.

Atkinson is such a creative writer that even the resolutions to some of these plot issues are not traditional or expected.  It is here in the conclusion that Jackson Brodie not only shows his character and his sense of justice, but actively helps some of the subordinate characters to achieve justice of their own.  By the time “The Fat Lady Sings” in the last chapter, many readers will be so energized by Kate Atkinson’s talent in drawing together the hundreds of details which feel so random in the beginning, that they, like the actor Bunny Hopps here, will be “soaring,” the “gods” will be laughing, the stars will be “twinkling like sequins,” and Atkinson’s many fans will be cheering.

ALSO by Kate Atkinson:  CASE HISTORIES (Brodie #1),      ONE GOOD TURN (Brodie #2),      WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS (Brodie #3),    STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG (Brodie #4) ,   

LIFE AFTER LIFE,       A GOD IN RUINS,       TRANSCRIPTION

Photos.  The author’s photo appears on https://www.telegraph.co.uk/

The history of Whitby Abbey, pictured here, may be found on https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/

The Cleveland Way trail is part of the national trail program in the UK:  https://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/

This stunning photo of the Whalebone Arch in Whitby is by Ron Jnr and may also be found on https://www.trover.com

Crystal Holroyd, whose past is checkered, regards her Evoque car as a symbol of her changed life.  https://auto.ndtv.com

BIG SKY
REVIEW. PHOTOS. England, Literary, Mystery, Jackson Brodie
Written by: Kate Atkinson
Published by: Little, Brown
Date Published: 06/25/2019
ISBN: 978-0316523097
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

“I don’t think I’m singing.  I feel like I am playing a horn.  I try to improvise like Les Young, like Louis Armstrong or someone else I admire.  What comes out is what I feel.  I hate straight singing.  I have to change a tune to my own way of doing it.  That’s all I know.” Billie Holiday, Nov. 1, 1939

41r-Q+Im6nL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In Melville House Publishing’s Last Interview series, Billie Holiday’s own words define her and reflect her difficult life through eight interviews.  The first is given on November 1, 1939, published in Downbeat Magazine, and the last is twenty years later, published in October, 1959, in Confidential Magazine, an interview she granted two days before her death in a New York hospital at age forty-four.  Born in Philadelphia on April 7, 1915, her life was hard lived, and when she died, a victim of her addictions to drugs and alcohol, she was depressed about her life and the fact that she might be forgotten.  Her fans, she believes, “forget the laughter and the weeping I brought to people who waited for a voice to sing the happy and the crying songs they wanted so much to hear.  They don’t remember the woman – they just remember the wreck.  That’s how people are – they remember someone else’s misery to forget their own.”

Young Billie with her dog, Mister. Photo by Rex Shutterstock.

Young Billie with her dog, Mister. Photo by Rex Shutterstock.

Born in Philadelphia, she grew up in Baltimore, the daughter of Clarence Holiday of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, with whom she had little contact after the age of ten.  According to Khanya Mtshali, who wrote the substantial Introduction to this book, Billie was raped at around age ten and sent to a Catholic reformatory school for about two years, but was released “with the help of relatives” and later moved to New York with her mother, “where they began engaging in sex work to make ends met.  Holiday was only fourteen.”  In the the book’s first interview by Dave Dexter, with Downbeat Magazine on Nov. 1, 1939, she talks about those early years when she and her mother “were so hungry we could barely breathe.” Desperate, she began walking down Seventh Avenue one day, stopping at every “joint” looking for work.  Eventually, she got her chance, and when the pianist, Dick Wilson, played “Body and Soul,” she soared:  “Jeez, you should have seen those people – all of them started crying….[and] that’s how I got my start.”  By fifteen, she had recorded a side with Benny Goodman, with Gene Krupa in the band.

Billie leaving the police station after her arrest in 1956.

Billie leaving the police station after her arrest in 1956.

Eight years later, in another Downbeat Magazine Interview by Michael Levin on June 4, 1947, Billie has just been released on $1000 bail after her first big arrest for drugs.  By that time, according to Wikipedia, she was at her commercial peak, having earned $250,000 in the previous three years.  In the Michael Levin Interview, she blames no one but herself for her problems:  “Whatever I did wrong, nobody else but me was to blame…I’m not offering an alibi, I’m not singing the blues,” but she then goes on to offer the fact that “my mother died 18 months ago, the only relative I had in the world. I guess I flipped, ran through more than $100,000 since then.  But I was trying to go straight.  It just seems as though I have a jinx over me.”  Though she has already “taken the cure” for three weeks, at a cost of $3000, “Now the federal people tell me they may send me away for another cure…Just when things were going to be so big and I was trying so hard to straighten myself out.  Funny, isn’t it?”

Billie with her friend and neighbor, Ella Fitzgerald.

Billie with Louis Armstrong, with whom she worked on a film.

Between the first interview in November, 1939, and the second interview, in June, 1947, Billie Holiday recorded her most famous songs: “Strange Fruit,” about lynchings in the South, in 1939;  “God Bless the Child,” in 1941, a song which eventually sold over a million copies; “Don’t Explain,” in 1944;  “What is This Thing Called Love,” in 1944; and “Good Morning, Heartache,” in 1946.  She worked in a major film in September, 1946, with Louis Armstrong and Woody Herman.  Unfortunately, her drug problems, according to Wikipedia, were a problem on the set of the film and though she earned over a thousand dollars a week from her club work, “she spent most of it on heroin.”  In the 1947 Michael Levin Interview in Downbeat, however, she insists, “I just want to be straight with people, not have their sympathy. And remember, nobody else in show business has made as many mistakes as me.”

Billie with her friend and neighbor, Ella Fitzgerald.

Billie with her friend and neighbor, Ella Fitzgerald.

By 1952, in her August 16 Interview with Dick Macdougall, she is reminiscing about the “good old days,” including her inspiration from Bessie Smith, who was one of her mother’s friends, and her friendships with with Louis Armstrong, Billy Eckstine, Benny Goodman, Mildred Bailey, Teddy Wilson, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald – her neighbor in New York.  By now she has traveled all over the world, but she is not happy about the state of music in 1952.  “All the artists are doing are bringing back all the old tunes….There’s really nothing happening….The things that I sing have to have something to do with me and my life, and my friends’ lives, and…it has to have a meaning, you know?  The things they’re writing today, nothing’s happening.”

Grave of Billie Holiday and her mother in the Bronx, New York.

Grave of Billie Holiday and her mother in the Bronx, New York.

The “Lost Billie Holiday Interview” with George Walsh of KNX Radio Los Angeles, from September 1956, was “unheard for nearly sixty years, until…it was resurrected by Gordon Skene…in 2015” and republished here.  Holiday’s manner of speaking in this interview suggested she was “under the influence” and management decided not to air it.  Her January, 1959, Statement in the Office of the Supervising Custom Agent, United States Treasury Department, is included here.  She had failed to declare to Customs upon entering the country from a stay in Paris and Italy that she had been convicted of narcotics offenses and had served  a year and a day at the Federal Reformatory for Women in Alderson, West Virginia.  She was unfamiliar with this new regulation and had not seen the notice posted at the airport.  Her Final Interview takes place two days before she died on July 17, 1959, and is (surprisingly) attributed to Billie Holiday herself.  Dying alone, with a policewoman in her room because a nurse claimed she had bits of heroin on her face, Holiday admits to having been a heroin addict for fifteen years.  Ultimately, she says,“I hold no regrets and I carry no shame…If my life was wrong or right – good or bad – it’s still my life and what’s about to happen – will happen just to me….[And] when I leave this lump they call the world, I’m going to leave all my blues behind and walk off singing.”  Billie Holiday has truly lived her song, “Don’t Explain.”

Billie Holiday sings “Strange Fruit,” 1959, the year of her death:

Photos:  Young Billie Holiday with her dog, Mister.  Photo by Rex Shutterstock.  https://www.thetimes.co.uk

Billie leaving the police station after her arrest in 1956.  https://www.biography.com

Billie with Louis Armstrong, with whom she worked on a film.  https://www.biography.com/

Billie with Ella Fitzgerald, her neighbor.  https://www.wtju.net

Grave of Billie Holiday with her mother in the Bronx, New York.  https://www.pinterest.com

BILLIE HOLIDAY: THE LAST INTERVIEW and OTHER CONVERSATIONS
REVIEW. VIDEO. PHOTOS. Autobiography/Memoir, Historical, Psychological study, Social Issues, US , Jazz
Written by: Billie Holiday and Khanya Mtshali
Published by: Melville House
Date Published: 07/30/2019
ISBN: 978-1612196749
Available in: Ebook Paperback

Jo Nesbo–KNIFE

“The old man could see it now. A beam of light coming from upriver, off to the right…[He] opened his mouth when he saw the spaceship come into the picture.  It was lit up from within and was hovering a meter and a half off the riverbed.  The current knocked it against a large rock, and almost in slow motion, it spun round until the light from the front of it swept across the riverbed and for a moment blinded the old man when it hit the camera lens…It was a car…full of water almost up to the roof.  There was someone in there.” – from the opening chapter.

cover knifeJo Nesbo, regarded by many as the best thriller writer of the century, always plunges directly into his stories, with vivid opening images like the one quoted above, in which characters raise questions about darkly surprising events that appear without warning, often during emergencies. The reader, too, has questions about the who, what, when, and why of these very early events which raise the suspense from the start, and, in turn, lead the reader to speed ahead, looking for answers to conundrums which may not be truly resolved until much later in the novel.  Nesbo’s descriptive talents are legion, enough to seduce even the most jaded reader into becoming involved in these novels from the outset.  From mysterious events like the one quoted above, in which a character sees something that he cannot believe, to moments in which someone experiences violence, fends off an attack, recognizes that the truth is different from what he has always believed, or fears for a loved-one’s safety, Nesbo is in total control, with most readers hanging on for the wild ride sure to follow.

author photo stia brochHarry Hole, the main character of Knife (and of the series bearing his name), has long been known for his alcoholism, blackouts, and complete lack of control, which he continues to exhibit in his self-destructive rages against the world at large.  While I am tired of Harry’s negative behavior after reading all twelve novels in the Harry Hole series, this new offering, Knife, is so well written that it has made me regard Nesbo’s work in a new light.  The best of the best, it has beautifully developed themes, flawless pacing,  intriguing and repeating subordinate characters, imaginative plotting, unrelenting dark atmosphere, and unexpected twists – one after another – after another – the likes of which I have never seen any other author even come close to duplicating.  Most excitingly, Nesbo keeps all levels of his themes on point throughout the action, while adding a whole new level of development.  His objective goes beyond the obvious goal of having Harry Hole win in his battle against crime by catching the murderer or murderers whom the police are seeking.  Now Harry Hole wants true justice – which in this case means seeing that a guilty person gets punished to the degree that he truly deserves – and Harry Hole is the one who decides what that amount will be.

Jo Nesbo is a professional musician in addition to an author, and he includes many references to groups and singers especially the Ramones, in this novel.

Jo Nesbo, a professional musician in addition to an author, includes many references to groups and singers, especially the Ramones, in this novel.

If he knows for sure that a murderer is dead, for example, that man obviously cannot be punished for the murder he committed, and the murder remains unavenged.  But if a confessed murderer, or serial killer, remains at large, unpunished, simply because there is not enough hard evidence to convict him, Harry sees no problem with stacking up some new evidence that might tie that killer to an unavenged murder he did not commit so that he can then be convicted as he deserves to be.  In the grand scheme of things, Harry regards this as judicially fair – after all, murder is murder, and in his mind it makes no difference which murder sends a killer to jail.  In an interesting reverse of this, which also occurs in Knife,  a father takes the blame for a murder committed by one of his adult children, even signing a confession, but after Harry investigates why, he refuses to let the adult child who committed the crime go free.   With a complex plot, more than one murder, a serial killer on the loose, and a series of repeating characters with past histories related to Harry Hole, Knife offers non-stop drama and action.

Lader Sagens Gate, is not a gate at all. It is a building, now used as a music school, and a landmark in Oslo. Harry and Jborn discuss the murderer here.

Lyder Sagens Gate, is not a gate at all. It is a building, now used as a music school, and a landmark in Oslo. Harry and BJorn discuss the murderer here.

I have deliberately avoided saying much about the plot here because it is a doozy, filled with emotion and surprises, and I do not want to spoil it for the reader.  It is enough to say that the main event occurs when someone well known to Harry is murdered.  The major suspect, Svein Finne, a sexual predator, has just been released from prison after serving twenty years.  While he was in prison, his son, Valentin Gjertsen, “one of the worst killers in Norwegian criminal history,” was killed by Harry Hole, and Finne now wants revenge.  Harry believes that the killing of his friend was a revenge killing by Finne, and when the two confront each other in an abandoned bunker, Harry beats Finne brutally.  Not long after, however, another person, Roar Bohr, is thought more likely to be the killer.  And he is not the only new suspect.  Harry has been drinking to the point of unconsciousness, and when he is found with blood on his clothes and hands, one member of the police suggests that Harry himself may have been the murderer.  Harry remembers nothing.

Smestaddammen

A murder takes place late in the novel at Smestaddammen on the side of the lake. The victim had been shot from across the lake.

Suspended from the police department,  he works on his own to try to solve the murder, relying, occasionally, on some of his police friends, familiar to Nesbo fans, who are actively involved in the investigation.  Through flashbacks and flashforwards, the investigation proceeds. Subplots galore keep the action going, and close-up scenes with the debilitated Harry make his own erratic behavior increasingly suspect. Supporting characters deal with additional crimes, and various characters of both sexes find each other for romance – with several of the women “adopting” Harry.   Several characters show sides of themselves that come as surprises to the reader – and to Harry – and that adds to the excitement and the mystery.  The action is constant and well developed, and as each complication arises, the reader sees how Jo Nesbo is developing his theories of justice, what it really means, and how it should be applied.   Nesbo’s genius and his care for details make this Nesbo’s most thrilling thriller to date.

Rakel compares her love and Harry Hole's to the root system of the oldest tree in the world, Ols Tjikko, in Sweden. Photo by Pal Magnus Tommervold.

Rakel once compared her love and Harry Hole’s to the root system of the oldest tree in the world, Old Tjikko, in Sweden. Photo by Pal Magnus Tommervold.

ALSO by Nesbo:  Harry Hole serises:   THE BAT,      COCKROACHES,     THE REDBREAST,     NEMESIS,     THE DEVIL’S STAR,       THE REDEEMER,     SNOWMAN,     THE LEOPARD,     PHANTOM,      POLICE,     THIRST (2017)      

Olav Johansen series :  BLOOD ON SNOW (2015 ),      MIDNIGHT SUN (2015)

Photos.  The author’s photo appears on https://www.post-gazette.com

The Ramones’ Road to Ruin is an album which Harry Hole greatly admired and discussed several times in the novel.  Author Jo Nesbo is, himself, a musician with a band in Norway.  https://en.wikipedia.org/

Lyder Sagens Gate is the site of a dramatic conversation between Harry and Bjorn Holm about the murderer of his friend.  It is now the site of a music school.  https://mapio.net

Smestaddammen, an Oslo lake and park, is where a murder takes place late in the novel.  The killer was hiding across the lake when he fired his shots.  https://akersposten.no/

Old Tjikko, in Sweden, reminds Harry of Rakel’s comparison between the roots of that oldest tree in the world and her love for Harry:  https://akersposten.no/

KNIFE
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Mystery, Thriller, Noir, Nordic Noir, Norway, Psychological study
Written by: Jo Nesbo
Published by: Knopf
Date Published: 07/09/2019
ISBN: 978-0525655398
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

 

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