Swans Commentary » swans.com July 30, 2012  



Special Summer Issue: Books, Music, Films


My Favorites


by Fabio De Propris



Fundraising Drive: Dear readers, here is a summer special edition on books, music, and films, which was imagined, organized, and put together by Manuel García, Jr. -- with the help and guidance from Swans editors. We hope you enjoy the result and have an enriched and peaceful summer. But keep in mind, to maintain Swans with the quality and dependability you have grown used to over the years we need financial help. Ask yourselves the value of our work, and whether you can find a better edited, more trenchant, and thoughtful Web publication that keeps creativity, sanity, and sound thoughts as first priorities. Please help us. Donate now!



(Swans - July 30, 2012)  




•   The Yacoubian Building: A Novel (2002), by Alaa Al-Aswany (English translation by Humphrey T. Davies, 2004, Harper Perennial)

A choral novel that ten years before the Arab Spring effectively described motley Cairo society, symbolized by the Yacoubian Building, its past, and its contemporary problems. One of the impressive characters, Taha el Shazli, a doorman's son, shows the reader how and why a Cairo boy becomes an Islamist.


•   Istanbul: Memories of a City (2003), by Orhan Pamuk (English translation by Maureen Freely, 2005, Faber and Faber)

A book about vision. A Turkish boy born in Istanbul in 1952 wants to become a painter but doesn't know how to look at the city he lives in. He reads Western literature and discovers the Orientalist way of seeing Istanbul. In his efforts to find a Turkish vision of a Turkish city, the boy begins a cultural journey that will lead him away from the painter's career he intended. The young Orhan has a new dream. He wants to become a novelist, but he still aims at describing what he sees.


•   Pereira Mantains (1994), by Antonio Tabucchi (English translation by Patrick Creagh, 1995, Canongate)

A political novel written by an Italian writer but set in a Portugal in 1938 under the dictator Salazar. Dr. Pereira, an elderly literary reviewer who, at the beginning of the story, thinks his life is over, is the best Portuguese character of Italian literature of all time, and one of the best characters of contemporary world literature.


•   View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems (1995), by Wislawa Szymborska (English translation by Clare Cavanagh, Harcourt Brace)

Is it still possible to write poems in our times, on our strange and devastated planet? A visitor from some outlandish galaxy, after reading Szymborska's lines, would answer yes. He would appreciate the author's humor and warmth of soul, if such qualities have some value outside our solar system.


•   The Six Suspects (2008), by Vikas Swarup (Doubleday)

After Q & A, his first novel, which inspired the movie Slumdog Millionaire, the Indian diplomat tells another bittersweet tale. His endeavor to depict India within a single novel is again successful: a murder, six suspects, a young American who finds a temporary job in a call center thanks to his perfect English, a Bollywood actress, a corrupt politician who suddenly does a Mahatma Gandhi, a slum boy who just might marry a rich girl... Swarup's novels are as strange as life.




•   Porgy and Bess (1935), music by George Gershwin, libretto by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin (1958 version, adapted by Russell Garcia and sung by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald)

What can I say? I just love it. The Gershwin Brothers were second to none and equal to Cole Porter.


•   Te voglio bene assaje (1835), music by Gaetano Donizetti, lyrics by Raffaele Sacco

One of the best Neapolitan songs. The purity of the melody is paralleled by the classic simplicity of the lyrics, which draw inspiration from Petrarch's 14th century, canzone, Chiare, fresche e dolci acque (Canzoniere, CXXVI).


•   Tiro Ao Álvaro (1960, Shooting Gallery), music and lyrics by Adoniran Barbosa (Joao Rubinato), vocals by Adoniran Barbosa and Elis Regina (1978 performance)

A Brazilian samba from São Paulo, where rhythm, love, and irony are wonderfully harmonized. Elis Regina's voice in 1978 added grace to a song that was already quite perfect. 2012 is the centenary of the Paulista composer (1912-1982), a good year to enjoy this and all his other compositions.


•   What Is This Thing Called Love? (1938), music and lyrics by Cole Porter, vocals by Sarah Vaughan, Live at the Tivoli, Copenhagen, 1963.

Cole Porter could put all the emotional travail a human being can experience into one song. His talent was unbelievable. Sarah Vaughan added rhythm and drive. I couldn't ask for more.


•   Cosa Sono Le Nuvole (1968, What Clouds Are), music by Domenico Modugno, lyrics by Pier Paolo Pasolini (soundtrack of the short Pasolini movie of the same title)

Domenico Modugno, aka Mister Volare, wrote this song with Pasolini, one of the greatest Italian writers of the 20th century. "The victim of a robbery who laughs steals something from the robber; while the victim of a robbery who laments steals something from himself. So I say to you all, as long as I laugh, I will not miss you." It's a reflection on the human condition encapsulated in a popular song: We are only puppets waiting to be thrown on the garbage heap, but while waiting enjoy a glimpse of the beauty of the universe.




•   Fargo (1996), by Joel & Ethan Coen, with: William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Frances McDormand.

A masterpiece unparalleled in the whole Coen Brothers' career. Something is rotten in the state of Minnesota. Evil doers are supposed to be smart, crime pays, and pregnant women should stay at home. Fargo explains that crime is costly, pregnant policewomen are smart, and bad guys should think twice. These ideas are so far from the spirit of our times that only the next generations may be able to see the worth of Fargo.


•   Spirited Away (2001, original title: Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi), by Hayao Miyazaki, a Studio Ghibli production.

A cartoon film that tells the story of a 10-year-old girl who lives an extraordinary experience in a separate world inhabited by monsters, spirits, and witches. Hayao Miyazaki doesn't want us to forget our humble and boring everyday life. His fantasy is aimed at revealing the inner truth of the simplest things. As the child Chihiro, far from her parents, becomes an adult, every viewer will laugh, cry, sigh, gasp, no matter how old she/he is, as if she/he was in a psychoanalytic session.


•   L'uomo in più (2001, One Man Up), by Paolo Sorrentino, with: Toni Servillo, Andrea Renzi, Nello Mascia, Ninni Bruschetta, Angela Goodwin, Roberto De Francesco

Ten years before his new international production This Must Be The Place,, starring Sean Penn and Frances McDormand, Paolo Sorrentino directed his first and unforgettable Italian movie. That story is set in 1980 and is about a soccer player and a Neapolitan singer, both at the end of their careers. L'uomo in più is an epitaph to the soccer player, who is a real person, and to an era which didn't yet know Ronald Reagan and Gordon Gekko.


•   Tony Manero (2008), by Pablo Larrain, with: Alfredo Castro, Amparo Noguera, Héctor Morales

Sometimes films tell a story that differs completely from their message. The images, the characters, and the events are metaphors. If you understand them, you enjoy the film. If you don't, you stand up and leave the theatre or your sofa. Do you remember Saturday Night Fever (1978) and its protagonist Tony Manero (John Travolta)? Well, Pablo Larrain's is a metaphoric film about Raul, an aging dancer who thinks he is Tony Manero and persuades his entourage that it's true. A strange story. But if you realize that Tony Manero is a metaphor for Chile under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, everything is clear and the film will turn into a milestone of contemporary cinematography.


•   24 (2001-2010), television series by Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran, with: Kiefer Sutherland, Carlos Bernard and Mary Lynn Rajskub

An 8-segment TV series that fully represents the fears, feelings, and technological feats of the beginning of this century. 24 depicts a Los Angeles and a world where Muslim enemies, East European spies, and white supremacists are constant threats, while American presidents are African Americans, namely, two brothers, both shot dead, like the Kennedys, or like Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, if you prefer Roman history. In the end, the job in the White House will be held by a woman. 24 is pure fantasy, but can be taken as a political document of our era.


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About the Author

Fabio De Propris is a Roman writer who has also lived in Istanbul. He has published three novels (Brenda e Plotino, Se mi chiami Amore, Nero Istanbul) and translated books from English (Markheim of R. L. Stevenson, Paradoxes and Problems of John Donne, An Anthology of William Hazlitt's Essays) and from Turkish (Two Girls of Perihan Magden, translated with Mehmet S. Bermek, The Clown and His Daughter of Halide Edip Adivar.) Fabio teaches in Rome and writes occasionally in Il Manifesto. He is presently at work on his fourth novel. His poems appear in the paintings of the group Artisti di Fortebraccio.   (back)


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Published July 30, 2012