Archive for August, 2009

Some references on New Testament Greek

August 31, 2009


Here are some references for New Testament Greek, kindly supplied by Paul Parvis (the more stars, the more recommended):

Nestle-Aland: Novum Testamemtum Graece, 27th edn Barbara and Kurt Aland (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1993)***

Danker, Frederick William, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edn (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)***

Abbott-Smith, G., A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd (rev.) edn (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1937 (and many subsequent printings))*

Moulton, William Fiddian and Alred Shenington Geden, A Concordance to the Greek New Testament According to the Texts of Westcott and Hort, Tischendorf, and the English Revisers (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1937 (and many subsequent printings))

Blass, F., and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, tr. Robert W. Funk (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961)*

Moulton, James Hope, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, 4 vols (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1906-76)

Vol 1, by Moulton, Prolegomena
Vol 2, by Moulton and Wilbert Francis Howard, Accidence and Word Formation**
Vol 3, by Nigel Turner, Syntax
Vol 4, by Turner, Style

Burton, Ernest De Witt, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek, 2nd edn (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1894)

Moule, C. F. D., An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959)

Madness in Valencia White Bear Kennington 30 August 2009

August 30, 2009



This was a translation of ‘Los locos de Valencia’ by Lope de Vega.

To start with, we saw the author (or madman Martin) revising the play in a cage while leaning on the madman Tomas. Then someone came on to announce that Fedra had damaged her leg so would have an extra prop in the form of a stick to play with.

And so we begin. We are in Valencia and Floriano appears in a panic having killed a Prince Reinero in a quarrel over a lady in Saragossa. He begs his friend Valerio to save him. Valerio suggests that he hides in the madhouse. Some mildly amusing exchanges with Tomas and Martin, a pair of inmates, ensue.

Then Erifilia (a young woman of the nobility) appears together with Leonato, her servant. They have eloped and Erifilia praises Valencia as a city for lovers.  Leonato robs Erifilia of  all her possessions and then runs off.  She is admitted to the madhouse, faute de mieux.

The administrator’s niece Fedra (green band) and her servant Laida (purple band) fall in love with Floriano, because he’s so good-looking.  Floriano is quite keen on Fedra (if also mad), until Erifilia enters, weighed down by a great burden of beauty.  They fall in love with each other to the accompaniment of philosophical speeches.  Laida imitates madness to attract Floriano’s sympathy and Fedra (with some vigorous hopping) imitates Laida imitating madness.  Valerio falls in love with Erifilia too and decides he is her cousin and will take her home.

Meanwhile Doctor Pisano has been doing an agreeably louche turn.  His cousin, an agent of law and order, appears with a portrait of Floriano.  Floriano and Erifilia engage in some noisy bits of business to persuade him it’s not him.

Fedra is still mad.  Her uncle the administrator is worried.

At the interval, Pisano elicited suggestions from the audience as to what to do with Fedra.  Some tender-hearted people suggested ‘tea’ and ‘TLC’, while I put forward ‘chlorpromazine’.

So the action restarts.  All agree that Floriano must ‘pretend’ to marry Erifilia to preserve her sanity.  Floriano agrees because the alternative is begging in the streets in honour of Shrove Tuesday and Erifilia is not unnaturally upset and goes off with Valerio.

The others attract the attention of a visiting nobleman while begging; Pisano invites him to the madhouse wedding.  Floriano and Fedra are about to be wed when Erifilia rushes in saying she can’t do it she loves only him etc.  In the ensuing confusion, the visiting nobleman turns out t0 be Prince Reinero, not dead only resting while his page lies in the grave.  Floriano and Erifilia are married, then Valerio says he will marry Fedra as long as she’s not mad only crippled and she says she was only pretending.  Exeunt omnes, apart from Laida who remains unprovided for.  So she calls them all back and they do it again da capo, except this time Reinero has a servant to marry her.

William Belchambers as Floriano was convincing after a bit of an uncertain start and Kathryn Beaumont’s Erifilia really was unbelievably beautiful as demanded by the text but unfortunately waved her arms about rather a lot; and Jonathan Christie as Valerio left a suitably ambiguous impression.

The play was fun and I laughed several times.  As translated, there was no poetry that made any impression and the pseudophilosophical bollocks exchanged by Floriano and Erifilia was just bollocks as opposed to leaving you wondering as in Shakespeare (or Calderon or Victor Pelevin).

But whatevs.  The men’s toilets in the White Bear were more reputable than they used to be, if still not exactly good.

There’s a facsimile of some old edition of the Spanish play to be found here.

Studying Russian in Russia Part 1: St Petersburg

August 29, 2009


Educacentre St Petersburg 23 March to Friday 5 April 2002

23 March

Flight from Heathrow to SPb. Slava meets me at the airport and takes me to the landlady’s flat. She says there’s no hot water–maybe after 26th. Transfer costs me $50.

24 March

I wander round SPb and when we return landlady says we are going to the theatre. We go the Aleksandrinsky ands buy some very cheap tickets, after which we occupy the most propitious vacant seats. На всякого мудреца довольно простоты is quite entertaining.

25 March

Landlady takes me to the school. Eventually a young woman turns up and says I’ll be studying with Wilma. I do some tests.

When the lesson starts, Wilma decides she doesn’t want to study with me and goes to see Raissa. Raissa asks where she’s supposed to get another teacher from. I go home, and manage to get the door open this time.

26 March

I arrive at the school. Irina and I stare at each other for a bit. Then I say they were going to find me another teacher. She says I need to see Raissa.

I end up in a room with a young woman called Veronika. She gives me a test and says I understand even complex sentences.

I do my homework in the evening. The landlady spills hot water on my trousers.

28 March

Veronika and I have a long talk about philological subjects and the educational systems of Russia and GB. In the evening, I try to get into the Akhmatova Museum and on a deserted street I am set upon by a gang of gypsy children.

Afterwards a detachment of police fondle their sub-machine-guns as we drive round looking for the gypsy children. We find nothing and I am despatched to give the station commander a packet of cigarettes.

Landlady says (but more sympathetically) that she told me so and sews my rucksack back together.

29 March

I tell Veronika what has happened. She is quite shocked, and tells me how everything has got much worse under the new system.

She reads through my exercises, and is taken by the ideas of David Irving–there was no mass extermination of Jews, only Slavs. She tells me that the two Russian classics of the 20th century were Sholokhov and Bulgakov.

In the evening I go to the Blok Museum and the lights are ceremonially switched on room-by-room to mark my progress.

30 March

I have a cold. Landlady says I have to go somewhere out of town. I get on a very crowded train to Pavlovsk, then my fever and I get lost in the ice and snow of the park. We manage to find our way to the station and get an even more crowded train back to SPb.

31 March

I wonder round and buy some books. I go to the Akhmatova Museum. Little old ladies insist on guiding me in what they think is English.

Landlady shows me photos of her trip across Europe to England.

1 April

Veronika arrives after me. I say I am ill. She says that Mandel’shtam, Brodsky and Nabokov are non-Russian writers. But Irina Rimskaya-Korsakova wrote a very good novel called Побежденные.

We talk about who pays for research in Russia and GB.

2 April

Veronika reads my homework and says drug-dealing is now officially allowed in Russia because of the Mafia. She is quite negative about Дни Турбиных.

I get an email from Severa saying she has got divorced. Irina says that people at my level usually do not want to study any more.

In the evening I go to Дни Турбиных. One of the actors looks very like Sid James.

3 April

Landlady bangs on the door to wake me up.

Veronika reads my sentences and says I don’t need to carry all of my papers with me all of the time.

4 April

The Metro is so packed that I can’t get off at my stop. But Veronika arrives later than me.

She marks my sentences, and tells me about концепты. I say this is nonsense. I say if there is a typical концепт for Germanic languages it must be Home. She says I am wrong.

5 April

When Veronika arrives I give her a guide to the National Gallery and a magnetic Constable. She is pleased.

She says that Eduard Limonov is a fighter for freedom. She says it would take too long to explain образ-понятие-концепт and I can look it up myself.

She tells me I should re-qualify in historical linguistics and become an academic. There was no need for me to study Russian but I could come to visit the theatre and buy books.

I hope it has not been too boring for her and she says No, one rarely meets someone with such abilities.  I give Irina a form, and she gives me a certificate.

I buy some books in the evening.

6 April

Taxi to airport. Flight to London. Конец.

Во всем мне хочется дойти…

August 29, 2009


In all I want to attain
To the inmost part–
In work, in searching for the way,
In troubles of the heart.

To the essence of bygone days
To their causes
To roots, to foundations,
To the very core!

Always gathering up the links
Of fate and happenings–
To love, to live, to feel, to think,
To discover things.

Oh if it was only mine
At least in part
To write in some eight lines
The passions of the heart.

The lawlessness and waste
The flights and chases
The surprises caught in haste
The shovings, the embraces.

Love’s rules I could frame
And her prognostic
And I could repeat her names
Like an acrostic.

I’d lay out a park of my lines
Veins quivering the while
Of lime-trees blooming in a line
From behind, Indian-file.

In my lines I’d put the roses’ smell,
The smell of mint
Meadows, sedge, men digging a well,
And the lightning’s glint.

So once did Chopin enclose
The living moods
Of farms, parks, tombs and groves
In his etudes.

The triumph of the achieved thing
Has playing and pain:
In the tightly-drawn bowstring
Of the bow under strain.

Greek Summer Schools I Have Been To

August 27, 2009

Here are my impressions of the Ancient Greek Summer Schools I have been to over the past 9 years and in four different places:  Lampeter, London, Durham and Edinburgh.  My memories of the more recent ones will be obviously be sharper.   The purpose is to give people who are interested some idea of what they are like, though it might be a little impertinent of me to call what follows a review.

In all of the groups reported on below, the basic procedure was that the students would take turns to read alound and comment on a piece of the text and then the teacher would…help.  Given the time constraints, the groups covered a certain portion of the texts mentioned, rather than the whole of them.

I believe that all of these summer schools will be running in 2010, and (irrelevant as it is to me) including Latin courses as well.  Update 03 May 2010: I’ve now located the following on the Edinburgh Classics Department sitePLEASE NOTE THAT NO SUMMER SCHOOLS WILL RUN IN 2010.

Lampeter 29 July to 9 August 2001


Old picture of Lampeter


I was doing Advanced Greek here and (from my records) we did two sessions a day of Works and Days in the first week and two sessions a day of Plutarch’s Life of Antony in the second week, together with one session a day of Pindar over the two weeks. There was also a prose composition class (something like one session per day?) that I went to.

The pupils in the literature classes comprised in the first week 5 retirees, a postgrad student (who I had in fact already encountered serving in Tlon Books down the Elephant) and me; or 2 Italians, a Japanese, a Portuguese and 3 Brits; or 2 people called Antonio and five who weren’t.

Before the first session on the first day I felt like running away and hiding (but then everybody does);  after that it was basically fine.

The tutor (another Japanese by origin) was very keen about Works and Days, and so was one of the Antonios, so this general level of interest spread to the rest of the class. But at one stage preparing Hesiod did feel like being crushed under 17 miles of plutonium.

We had somebody else to teach Pindar, and he chose people at random to read/translate, which led to a closer engagement with the text (also Pindar was and is a great deal more interesting).

In prose composition, we had the two Italians from the Hesiod class, a further retiree who was ‘really’ doing Latin [and didn’t approve of this literature nonsense when you could be doing grammar] and a young woman from an elementary class [who said she was just fired by curiosity and eagerness]. I think we may have had one prose per day to do and I actually did them (strange person), which took a lot of time and effort.

And there was somewhat of a change of personnel for the second week’s Plutarch, but we had about the same number and age range of students.

There was an examination you could do at the end (and I did), and a couple of excursions–I didn’t go to New Quay and did go to Laugharne, which was jolly nice.

I think that the best thing about this school was being in the middle of Wales, where I’d never been before, in the God-haunted landscape of hills, sheep and streams and the signs in a foreign language.

The worst thing was probably the eating arrangements, which may have been peculiar to this particular year. There was no place for all the participants to eat together–since on such exercises the clientele tend to be either A-Level/first year undergraduate students or retirees, these two groups do need some encouragement to mingle with each other!  And that’s surely the point of a summer school–ἡ δ’ ὁμιλία πάντων βροτοῖσι γίγνεται διδάσκαλος (being together is the teacher of everything for mortals–a remark of Menelaus in Euripides’s Andromache).

London 8 July to 16 July 2003


We were in the Institute of Archaeology


So the normal initial panic came when I was standing in a hall in UCL surrounded by crowds of people, many of them young.  Then a young  Modern Greek blonde woman came up and took a few of us away to do Advanced Greek–there were 7 of us in the end:  3 retirees, 3(!) people of working age, and one A-Level-ist.

The instructor had prepared some passages touching on Alcibiades from Plato and Thucydides with the idea that the students could compare and contrast, but this was really a bit beyond what the group felt able to do.  What was good was that she used overheads to show how complicated bits of syntax fitted together and also handed out extracts from Modern Greek textbooks on Ancient Greek with comforting diagrams and explanations.  She was very proficient (especially for someone not really a teacher) at dealing with the different levels of the class members and it was interesting that at the end we got to read the hypothesis of a (lost) play by Cratinus she was writing her thesis on.

So the good things about this were the syntactical explanation and the chance at the end to see some live classical research in action.  And all the groups were herded into one room to have tea and coffee which meant we had got to talk to other people (and had for instance an interesting conversation with a young woman who wished to study Latin at university rather than science as her family required).  I think the main problem was just being in London–I ended up trying to get some electrical work done and trying to retrieve some undelivered parcels and also going to a Russian class one evening after a day’s Greek…

Durham 22 July to 28 July 2007


St John's College--formerly some houses I guess

So this time I didn’t really feel any panic at all.  We had a class of 12(!) that first of all did a book of the Iliad I’d said on my application form I wanted to avoid because I’d done it recently and then Andromache.  Mostly it was retirees.

We had three sessions a day, and the group was probably just too large!  In the Iliad, the teacher kept people awake by asking random questions about grammar, but in the Andromache the (different) instructor even dispensed with reading aloud, and there was rather a lot of chat about what people thought the play ought to be about, rather than the text itself.

In the evenings we had lectures on classical subjects where attendance was…expected.  Even though many of the participants in the Summer School as a whole were ‘real’ students, they didn’t display an acceptable level of resistance to this idea (but we were housed in a theological college, which may explain it).  And we had an excursion to various sites on Hadrian’s Wall.

As for good points, we were very well fed and all in one dining hall, so mixing was promoted!  And we had among us a group mother, who exerted herself to make sure everyone was happy and getting along with each other.   I also enjoyed seeing some real scenery from the coach on the Hadrian’s Wall trip.

But the bad point is that I got seriously bored with the content of the teaching sessions…

Edinburgh 20 July to 26 July 2009


David Hume Tower

Well, this was different!  For a start, I was doing Intermediate/Advanced NT Greek.  Then the process of getting enrolled was interesting in itself–for months and months and months the Summer School website just sat there promising details for 2009, so I finally fired off an email and then for weeks and weeks nothing happened.  Then I suddenly got an email a few days before the start to say I could come if I wanted…

So I did, and the Summer School turned out to encompass 20 or so people in all.  There were three of us doing NT Greek and we proved to be at extremely disparate levels.  The instructor reacted to this with angelic patience and by doing an extra 7 hours of individual tuition on top of his scheduled 23.5 hours.  And I was most impressed–not only did he know and explain an awful lot about the ancient world at the time of Christ, he also interested me in grammatical explanations of things that I knew perfectly well by relating them to general structures and Indo-European origins.

In our organised time off, we had a trip to a surgical museum (since one of the girls from the Classics Dept was working there) and an hour or so of palaeography–a brief explanation of the manuscript tradition combined with trying to read some fairly old MSS.  And at the end there was an evening in a Turkish cafe given over to rembetika songs for the occasion.

And I liked it a lot–the rackety atmosphere was probably due mostly to do with uncertainty about whether the thing was going to go ahead this year, but I enjoyed it anyway–if something’s worth doing, people will try to prevent it.  And the idea of getting students to actually do things in terms of for instance very elementary palaeography (get them to try and read ancient MSS and see how difficult it is).  Similarly, I think it has to be right not to present Ancient Greek as a thing on its own but accompanied by and in the context of Koine, Byzantine and Modern Greek.  Otherwise you’re left with something like a story about invaders from outer space.

I’ve now posted some more on possibilities for studying NT Greek in particular here.

What I conclude from having written this posting

It’s probably time I desisted from these summer schools!  Of the 22 or so fellow-students alluded to above, maybe one knew as much Greek as me (or more).  So it’s not clear that I’m going to learn anything new–I think I got away with Edinburgh because of the particular circumstances.

As for teaching Ancient Greek and how it should be done I have come to some conclusions that aren’t necessarily what I started off with.  I think that the instructor needs to hit the students over the head with grammar quite regularly, even if they say they know it.  The way to make this interesting is to relate to to general structures and historical principles–for instance, the fact you have φέρω, οἴσω and ἤνεγκον isn’t a random act of motiveless malignity, it’s because the ancient Indo-Europeans had a system of suppletive stems.  One stem for each of their three tenses, so you can never have more than three stems for one verb unless different verbs got roped together in post-IE times (but I can’t think of any examples of this!)

I do think you need a text that can be finished in the time available, otherwise people feel disoriented by a collection of fragments…So that would be either poetry or a particular philosophical argument say. Or maybe someone like Herodotus who’s fairly episodic by nature.

I wonder what exactly people are doing sitting in a classroom reading and translating the text of a play that was originally delivered orally?  That’s what Byzantine schoolboys did under the spur of lavish punishment, but otherwise it’s a bit strange.  Should a Greek play be a text anyway?–Did the dramatist actually ever write it down and hand round parts or did he personally rehearse the actors and chorus and leave them to make notes if they wanted?

But anyway…I think it’s a very good idea if students get to do something in terms of ‘acting’ scenes from a play or extremely elementary palaeography or epigraphy–an inscription cut into a monument is a raw historical fact in a way that a carefully accented, punctuated, capitalised, word-divided modern text of an ancient historian isn’t.  And it’s surely possible to play at textual criticism on the basis of early texts of Shakespeare (or even of the NT) if ‘real’ ancient authors are too difficult.

In search of Mikhail Leonovich Gasparov

August 26, 2009


Since Thornton’s appeared to be advertising vol 3 of Gasparov’s Izbrannye trudy, I emailed them as follows:

Dear Sirs,

Do you still have the following book:

GASPAROV, M.L. Izbrannye Trudi. Volume 3. order no. R71517 Price: GBP 16.50 ?

It appears in some third-party databases, but not in your catalogues as far as I can see…


and got the following (seemingly positive) reply:

Thank you, our catalogues only contain part of our stock. All books
should be ordered vai ILAB or antiqbook

the order link is

So I ordered it, as one would, and got the following reply:

We now find that this has been sold, apologies for earlier reply.

If you like we could try and find anaother copy in Russia

[presumably they’d not bothered looking the first time!] I knew there was some reason I’d spent 25 years not buying anything from them…

So then I tried ordering vols 1 & 2 from MIPP as listed on their site and a few days later:

Unfortunately we are not able to supply volume 2.

Volume 1 is ready for delivery and can be sent shortly:

Gasparov M.L.
Izbrannye trudy: T.1: O poetakh.
Volume 1: M.: IAzyki russkoi kul’tury, 1997. 664+504 pp.. Hard. 3000 copies. In Russian.
$20.00 (Item no. M81712)

Do you agree to get volume 1 without volume 2?

This is not meant be be a criticism of MIPP–getting hold of Russian books is not an easy business.  But I wasn’t that interested in vol 1…As to other possibilities, claim to have vols 1 & 2 for an extortionate $75.

I can for the moment only dream about Veroyatnostnaya model’ stikha…

Studying Biblical Hebrew (especially in London)

August 25, 2009


Note:  there is a page on this subject that I update here.  The posting below does not get updated.

Evening classes

I can really only speak for London.  There used to be courses at Birkbeck, SOAS, and the London Jewish Cultural Centre, but they all seem to have disappeared over the past few years.

The Birkbeck courses were taught by Rachel Montagu, who is presently  running an advanced course independently to replace the one Birkbeck used to do.  I”ve now dedicated a posting to the 2010/11 edition of Rachel’s course here.  If you’re interested in this, you can email her directly.  Or if you’re feeling shy you can email me instead.

I’ve also now received the following from Ann-Marie Ryan at the Benedictine Study and Arts Centre in Ealing about a beginners course in Biblical Hebrew:

I have  just sorted dates and times with Rabbi Rachel Montagu for an ‘Introduction to Biblical Hebrew’ course, to be run at the Benedictine Study and Arts Centre, Autumn Term 2010.  Dates and times as follows:

Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (10 weeks)
7 October to 16 December (not 28 Oct.)
Course Fee: £100

The BSAC website appears to be in a state of flux at the moment, but it is possible to email Ann-Marie.  Or you could email Rachel instead.

There is a course entitled ‘Biblical Hebrew’ at the London School of Jewish Studies in Hendon.  It looks to me as though it’s meant for Orthodox Jews living in North London, and there’s no indication of the level as far as I can see.

I am referring to  stand-alone courses here–among other possibilities, Heythrop College does a part-time MA in Biblical Studies or places like the West London Synagogue provide instruction in Hebrew for those wishing to convert.


The one that Rachel used–and it’s the best I know of if you’re doing it without a teacher–is the First Hebrew Primer from Eks .

There’s also an answer book and a set of CDs you can get from Amazon (or directly from the publishers). They also have readers and so on so there is something to go on to once you’ve done the elementary course. The other thing I like the look of is the Cambridge Biblical Hebrew Workbook .

In any case, you need something that gives simple stroke-by-stroke instructions as to how to do the letters…

Other books

The standard dictionary is Brown-Driver-Briggs .

Unfortunately, you have to know rather a lot of Hebrew to use it! I find Holladay more useful, while the only useful systematic grammar that I know of is the  Biblical Hebrew Reference Grammar .  There are a lot of things called grammars out there, but they tend to be 1-year courses for people who ‘have to’ do some Hebrew in a seminary or whatever.

And of course there’s the Hebrew Bible itself .

Internet resources

There are some grammatical exercises (based on the First Hebrew Primer) here,  and some more grammatical exercises here, while the Blue Letter Bible offers some explanation and parsing of the Hebrew text and Bible Study Tools has an interlinear-text-with-lexicon (with thanks to Cornelia Linde for pointing this last one out).

And of course there’s also the people, who do teaching over the Internet (now with accreditation from HUJ it seems).

Other possibilities

You can do an Ulpan in Biblical Hebrew (or indeed Koine Greek) in Israel, and there are also  summer courses at HUJ .

(I’ve also added a further posting on some more  aspects of studying BH here.)

Furniture Warehouse

August 25, 2009

I ordered a 3-piece suite from these people on the grounds that I couldn’t find the kind of thing I was looking for anywhere else. (This line of reasoning has an unfortunate history–it once led me to buying a flat that was a complete disaster.)

Anyway, the order was made and paid for in full on 18 June 2009, with a delivery time of 4 to 6 weeks (so, by 30 July). And I didn’t receive the furniture, nor did I get explanation or notification.

So I tried ringing them:

03 August–I was told they would ring back (and I heard nothing)

07 August–I was told they had told me on 3 August that the factory was closed (they had told me nothing) and they would ring back on Monday 10 August

10 August–nothing!

11 August–I rang and was again told that they would ring back (and I again heard nothing), after I had stayed in all afternoon since they wanted to use the landline.

12 August–I sent them an email asking when I could expect to get the furniture I had paid for.  And received no reply or acknowledgment.

So from my experience you just pay over your money and you might get something sometime if they can be bothered. The reviews here tell the same story.

It certainly looks like one to be avoided!

Update 27 August–I rang them and someone identifying himself as Paul said they’d got the furniture in and he would be in touch to tomorrow to arrange delivery probably next week.  We will see!

More on this here.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Mohsin Hamid)

August 22, 2009

Green cover crescent and star***

We discussed this in the ‘Equal Writes’ book group , and I was more sceptical than most. As far as I can estimate, the book contains 50,000 words or so, so it’s a novella tricked out to look more-or-less like a novel (184 pages in the US edition).

For a novella, the structure is quite complex: we have  one side of an evening’s conversation between Changez (the narrator) and an unidentified American, which frames the story of how Changez set off for America full of hope and ambition and returned disillusioned after 9/11; at the centre of this narrative there is Changez’s love affair with Erica, an upper-class American girl and coeval of his at Princeton.

And that’s where it gets really schematic: Erica (I am Erica–I, America) is still in love with Chris (Christopher Columbus, maybe) who she had known since early childhood and who died very young of lung cancer without ever having smoked. Chris was a good-looking boy with Old World appeal and a collection of European comic books, so let’s say he symbolises the European inheritance which Erica is unable to turn away from to embrace the new represented by Changez; after a night of love where Erica pretends that Changez is Chris, she slips back into mental illness and (apparently) commits suicide by throwing herself in the Hudson River.  So what’s this lung cancer thing with Chris?  My only explanation is the observation that while Americans grow tobacco they don’t smoke it, so this lung cancer reflects how America has killed Europe (in terms of power, for instance).  Or maybe the author just felt like it!

Among other improbabilities, Erica is a writer whose first book just out of college has been accepted by a publisher (or just agent?) We learn that this book ‘is more of a novella than a novel. It leaves space for your thoughts to echo.’

Apart from Erica, Changez’s story is that he is from a downwardly-mobile upper-class family in Lahore and comes to the USA determined to restore his fortunes. After graduating brilliantly from Princeton, he eagerly seeks out a job at Underwood Samson (Uncle Sam!), a firm whose business it is to ruthlessly value companies and whose motto is ‘Focus on the fundamentals’.

Changez finds his identification with (the) US faltering after a business trip to Manila where he feels himself identified with the conquering American Other and the US’s paranoid and backward-looking reaction to 9/11.

In an attempt to save him from himself, the firm send him to Valparaiso to value a publishing company. There, the proprietor Juan-Bautista (must be Spanish for John the Baptist) enlightens Changez about his role as an American janissary (janissaries were elite troops of the Ottoman empire, taken from their Christian families at a young age–a strange thing for a Moslem Princeton graduate not to know) who fought to erase their own civilisation, leaving nothing else to turn to. Presumably this explains the name Changez (Urdu version of Genghis) as a destroyer of Moslem civilisation. (Or it could just be that he is the Changes that AmErica is unable to accept after her tragic loss–but this is a bit crude even for an allegory.)

So Changez returns to Pakistan and armed with an undergraduate degree and six month’s experience gets a job teaching at the local university (convincing, or what?) He becomes as it seems a moderate opponent of American power and after one of his students is disappeared, he condemns American readiness to kill people in other countries and frighten people far away in a TV interview, which extract gains some international exposure. And he grows a beard.

So we return to the evening in Lahore, where Changez first of all accosts the American, who then sits with his back to the wall, regularly texts ‘the company’ and may have a concealed weapon. But he is alarmed by the waiter and other surrounding men who Changez seems to know and look as though they mean to do him harm.

Changez tells us that not all Pakistanis are potential terrorists and not all Americans are undercover assassins, but of course Erica has already told us that this is an open ending that ‘leaves space for your thoughts to echo’.

And I was irritated!

This is the kind of clever-clever playing of formal games which normally appeals to me, but here there wasn’t enough of the gloss and bloom of surface realism to interest me in the first place.  And what does the title mean?–A fundamentalist is surely one who adheres to a particular, rigorist, interpretation of Islam, and any mention the name of Allah is carefully excluded here.  In fact, as I recall it nobody in Pakistan has a name apart from Changez–not his family, not his dog, not anybody.

Of course the clever indication that Changez did not want to ‘focus on the fundamentals’ for Uncle Sam has no doubt helped the book sell many copies–the American edition has a cover in green with a crescent moon and star punched out of it,  just to reinforce the message.  And the American edition has lots of what seem to be random errors in English: ‘treaded water’, ‘fair-haired [for blue-eyed] boy’, ‘the waiter will bring us more momentarily’ and so on…

The book is obviously meant to be about nostalgia–Changez comments how the US is returning to a fairytale past of generals and flags after 9/11, while Erica says that she loves it when he talks about Lahore, he seems so alive.  When Changez first visits Erica’s room, he sees a drawing by Chris of an island in a lake on an island in the sea, as it were an image of turning in on oneself, and at the end he reads her MS and it’s about a girl alone on an island making do.

In my end is my beginning, as we’re no doubt supposed to think…

Kat’a Kabanova Opera Holland Park Friday 08 August

August 8, 2009


Well, I failed to understand this. Which was a pity, because the score as a score is lovely (and was very well-played) and the singers were bloody good to, especially the wonderful Anne-Sophie Duprels as Kat’s (and Tom Randle as Boris).

But where was it set? We had a Russian samovar, mid-European mid-nineteenth-century costumes and what seemed to be part of Tatlin’s (early Soviet era) tower imprisoning Katya.

Does this matter? The point of Ostrovsky’s original play is that it’s a recognisable portrait of the patriarchal way of life among certain sections of Russian society of his time, so things like rampant suspicion and the assumption of Kabanicha’s absolute power make sense. But not so much if it’s set Somewhere at Sometime.

And then is there enough drama to support an opera? Boris leaves and Kat’a decides to die, but before that their final scene really isn’t long enough (just one example). And of course inserting an unnecessary interval into what is 1 hr 40 min  of music didn’t help.

I still don’t understand…

There is some description from OHP here.