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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Zwölf Jahre

I am writing about a book I read in German today (only had the translated version), but I cannot get myself to write in German for some reason. Maybe a way to distance myself, maybe just showing off, maybe I just feel more comfortable writing in English nowadays. I have spent most of the last five-six years doing just that after all. I haven't been very busy on this thing here (the word blog seems so...limiting?), mostly because I spend my life studying for two of the most important exams I've ever taken, and when I say life I mean it.

Anyway, today I again went to the library early in the morning and read a book about the German legislative system. I just couldn't do it anymore after a while though, so I went home instead and finished my subway reading material, Joel Agee's Twelve Years - An American Boyhood in Eastern Germany. Now, this book is special in the sense that I actually know the author. He and his wife are friends of my parents, I have spent time with them in New York and will actually be seeing them this Saturday (the knowledge of which inspired me to finally pick up his book in the first place). So what does this mean? I am not quite sure, maybe that I was positively disproposed towards the book, maybe that I wouldn't have been as critical as necessary if I wouldn't have liked it? I have no idea.

Good news first, I really liked this book. I finished it today in 3-4 hour reading session and spent 30 minutes on the internet afterwards trying to find out more about some of the (real-life) characters. Joel is the son of James Agee (quite the famous writer to have as a father, not very relevant for the rest of his story though) and Alma Mailman/Agee/Uhse. His mom went to Mexico with him where she married a German communist and writer, Bodo Uhse (who himself has an interesting life-story, being a left-wing Nazi in the 1920s only to become a communist in the 30s). The Uhse family (sorry all you label-centered feminists) then moved to the Soviet-occupied zone in 1948. In his novel, Joel, more or less liberally, recounts his years in Germany, the German Democratic Republic actually. Some of it is very personal and in that sense not related neither to the time-period nor the geographic location, his first sexual experiences and his difficulties with them, but also his driftlessness, his lack of direction, of application. Other parts are more directly connected to his unique position an American Jew growing up in Germany in the 1950s, the rigid party rule, the blind obedience for which Germans then (and now) are famous for.

I really liked this book, I can only recommend it to all of you. Especially maybe people that know Germany but don't come from here or at least have managed to gain some kind of an outsider's perspective on it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Coming of Age in Mississippi

A friend of mine lend this to me (forced upon would be another possibility of describing this transaction) in North Carolina. So, now I've read it and I see why she would have thought I should read it. Anne Moody's Coming of Age in Mississippi is The Classic Autobiography of Growing Up Poor and Black in the Rural South. It definitely sounds like a book someone like me (fanatic of the South, race relations, the Civil Rights Movement, Mississippi in particular) should read. All of this is very true too, the only problem is that I didn't find Moody to be such a great writer, which diminished the pleasure of reading her book significantly.

I do have to admit that it was super interesting to have the perspective of someone who grew up in her stature of life. Yet, sadly Moody dwells too long on passages outlining her achievemens in her home-town (how well she worked, studied, how she became prom-queen) which started to bore me relatively fast. Maybe I just spent too much time reading people who cannot stop overboarding their phrases with meaning (which has made it a problem for a while now for me to write coherently and not convoluted), but her writing seemed too straight-forward for me. So, enough complaining. I read this in one session, sitting on the train and I enjoyed myself while doing that. Think I had just been hoping for a deeper more general analysis through an autobiography (the way Franklin does it), what I got instead was the life of a woman. A remarkable woman, fighting against racism, Jim Crow, her own family, her poverty. I would recommend the book more to people that haven't read that much about the South and its recent history yet, than to someone slightly obsessive like me.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hank Williams - The Biography

I don't think I am sharing anykind of personal insight if I make you (the worthy reader of this publication) aware of the fact that Hank Williams is one of my favorite singers and heroes (whatever that big word may mean) in general. Colin Escott has written an autobiography of the man behind the legend now (such a standard-phrase, had to use it, sorry) together with George Merritt and William Mac Ewen. I feel torn on what the work that they produced. On the one hand it is exhausting to read with a great number of name references that even someone of my knowledge of country/hilbilly of folk (as Hank apparently called it a lot) music simply does not understand. Nashville sidemen, or regional stars and one-hit wonders there are too many. The short introduction that some of these get (because the authors clearly are aware of this knowledge gap) become tiresome after a while and blur together. On the positive side they do a great job of bringing the reader closer to Hank Williams himself, his miserable life before and during fame, his excessive drug consumption, the he doled out and was on the receiving end of. What a character, what a poor man. The music industry in Nashville, which was still being built back then, and its deplorable business aspects receives some spotlight. And finally the unsavory persons circulating around Hank are shown in their sad light. His mother, his first Wife (Audrey) both of whom before and after his death tried to make as much money as possible of him, while especially the latter had stopped caring about or giving him anything years earlier. The lies that they told to make themselves seem closer to the legend. Finally, and a bit more technical, the origin of some of Hank's songs (the non self-composed ones obviously) are focused on, some more material to peruse for me in the future.

So, the Lovesick Blues-boy biography definitely deserves a look at if you understand the beauty that is a Hank Williams song (and as Kris Kristofferson said: If you don't like Hank you can kiss my ass). It'll make oyu have pity on the man that died a wreck at 29 after having given us an immense amount of beautiful music.