MoJo Author Feeds: Rinku Patel | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en "Cloud Atlas" Author David Mitchell: "What a Bloody Mess We've Made" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>British novelist David Mitchell is best known as the guy who wrote the great novel that was made into the challenging movie <em>Cloud Atlas</em>. Yet the screen fails to convey the true brilliance of Mitchell, who has been widely hailed as one of the English language's best prose stylists. He so convincingly captures the patois of disparate characters that one might mistake him as the charismatic frontman for a creative writer's guild.</p> <p>Over a 15-year career, Mitchell has earned a cult following for the way his work seamlessly bridges historical, contemporary, and science fiction. Readers of his latest novel, <em>The Bone Clocks</em>, won't be disappointed. It offers a genre spanning, multistranded narrative that begins in an English pub in 1984 and ends in 2043, when the oil runs dry and a war wages between bands of immortals.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Bone-Clocks.WEB_.gif"></div> <p>On a recent drive together through San Francisco, the 45-year-old author told me about his "midlife crisis novel," and why he's not so confident about the survival of the human race.</p> <p><strong>Mother Jones: </strong>How does it feel to be back in San Francisco?</p> <p><strong>David Mitchell:</strong> It's where I did my first solo book event ever [in 1999]. I was living in Japan. It was my first ever time in America, my first book event, first everything. Back then there was no one that wanted to meet me. So I did an urban hike, with trees and a steep hillside and these steps and ended up at the ocean. I had my first meal in a real American diner by the sea.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>The architecture of your books involves interconnected novellas whose characters often turn up unexpectedly. Which comes first, structure or character?</p> <p><strong>DM:</strong> The structure is the attention grabber, and somewhat unusual, but emotional resonance should be something all novelists should want to create. If you don't care about characters, you've got dead bodies on your hands.</p> <p>For the same reason you can't make yourself laugh by tickling yourself, you never actually know if you've achieved empathy for the character. I start by making the character want something and yearn for something&mdash;and what are the holes in their lives? That's a key to making that bond with the reader. But I needed a theoretical place for the characters to go; they couldn't all be there at once&mdash;which brings us back to structure.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>There's a musicality in your writing, an elegant single-mindedness. Is this a conscious effort?</p> <p><strong>DM:</strong> I think long and hard on each word, and then I'm revising, revising, revising. For me, and for a lot of writers, writing is mostly rewriting. And for me, at that level, if assonance and alliteration and dissonance feel right, then that's what I do. I go with those words and not others.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>Talk about your <em>Bone Clocks</em> protagonist.</p> <p><strong>DM:</strong> Holly&rsquo;s an amalgam girl, a compilation girl, a mixtape girl. She&rsquo;s pretty solidly working class, though in the middle era of her life she's writing books. She's rebellious, says no more than I ever did as a boy, more than I do now&mdash;with gay abandon even. My daughter's not quite the right age yet, but any father of a daughter becomes more feminist than he was before. I hope this knowledge gives me a slightly different way of looking out.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>Recently, you've thrown an interesting conceptual bone at the reader by suggesting that your novels all form one &uuml;ber-book, in which characters and themes may overlap and reoccur. If this book is part of a larger universe, then who are you still thinking about?</p> <p><strong>DM:</strong> Right now I think about Hugo, because I realize he's out there, he's aging. It's the end of <em>The Bone Clocks</em> and he's got the body of a 24 year old. [He was] born around the same time as me, in the late sixties, and I wonder what he's up to. At the end of <em>The Bone Clocks</em>, he gets to have his thirties, when most of his contemporaries are in their 60s. He's a future character.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>Have you heard of the movement, popular among libertarians, called Transhumanism?</p> <p><strong>DM:</strong> Once the book is handed in, the characters are in cryogenic suspension. That belongs in that Transhumanist tradition, doesn't it? With West Coast attitude, you can cheat death. In a strange way, it peculiarly belongs to the tradition of <em>The Bone Clocks</em>. Is it not a kind of a malady? Is it not indicative of our beauty-obsessed culture, equating being over 40 with being on the threshold of the old folks home? Stop feeling envious of beautiful, healthy young 20-year-olds&mdash;not a sideways envy, but a painful blade in the guts. That's the enemy of the contemporary life, especially when you have other things to be dealing with in the domestic sphere.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>Do you think <a href="" target="_blank">we handle aging poorly</a>?</p> <p><strong>DM:</strong> If you were an alien anthropologist studying a TV program, you wouldn't be aware of anyone with white hair other than an occasional anchorman. Terror makes you profoundly age averse. We become sort of mean to seniors: "Why are you holding up my queue?" And so they venture out much less. Japan's not much better. It's a Confucian country where in theory they equate age with wisdom and not decrepitude, but you can't survive as an old person in the middle of Tokyo&mdash;you'd get trampled. And so, you don't see them.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>The last section of your book presents a dim view of what's to come for us humans. What do you think our future holds?</p> <p><strong>DM:</strong> I'm a country boy and I love trees. <a href="" target="_blank"><em>The World Without Us</em></a> talks about how what a great benefit to the planet Earth, the disappearance of human beings would be. It would be lovely, in a really quick time frame&mdash;except the nuclear reactors. They, of course, are monstrous and melting for millennia to come, without a power grid to cool the water, to cool the nuclear waste. We've damned the planet by <a href="" target="_blank">failing to keep a lid on radioactive waste</a>. I see myself not just as a citizen of a state but also part of a life form and ecosystem: Humanity is a sentient life form with a wherewithal to be conscious, and what a bloody mess we've made.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>Do you think technology could avert disaster?</p> <p><strong>DM:</strong> They can use a [computer] virus to deactivate Iran's reactors but a virus can't stop plutonium from being radioactive. The only way to stop it is not to synthesize the stuff in the first place, but it's a bit late for that. The best thing about nature is what Agent Smith says in <em>The Matrix</em>: Humans spread and breed until the natural resources are used up, and then move on. What's the only other life form that does this? The virus.</p> <p><strong>MJ: </strong>The immortals in the story, besides shedding light on our ageism, made me think about <a href="" target="_blank">the relationship between resource scarcity and climate change</a>. Care to elaborate?</p> <p><strong>DM:</strong> Resource wars can take religious guises or political guises but if there was enough going around none of them would happen. You're in a drought in a&nbsp;pretty well functioning state, but imagine if you're in a drought in a loose network of failed states and the place is awash with AK-47s. Gosh, this is getting to be a gloomy thing. But, overpopulation may usher in the Endarkenment. Civilizations do end. That's why there are new ones. It's a zero sum game.</p> <p><em>At this, Mitchell leans back with a smile, and suggests a question: "What's your fantasy air guitar solo?"</em></p></body></html> Media Interview Books Top Stories david mitchell Sat, 11 Oct 2014 10:00:11 +0000 Rinku Patel 261741 at Book Review: "Half Blood Blues" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><span class="inline inline-left"><img height="307" width="270" src="" alt="Esi Edugyan" title="Esi Edugyan" class="image image-preview"><span class="caption" style="width: 268px;"><strong>Esi Edugyan</strong></span></span>In 2011 Esi Edugyan&rsquo;s bestelling novel <i>Half Blood Blues </i>snagged Canada&rsquo;s highest literary honor, was a finalist for Britain&rsquo;s Man Booker Prize, and was translated into nine languages. A Canadian with roots in Ghana, 34-year-old Edugyan&rsquo;s novel explores the overlooked histories of Africans and mixed-race foreigners through the travails of a popular jazz band trapped in Nazi-era Europe. With a light touch and a deft hand, she provides original insight on the black American experience. So it&rsquo;s a shame the novel is only now being released in the US, by Picador on February 28th.&nbsp;</p> <p>The story opens as the Hot-Time Swingers, whose members include African-Americans, a Jew and a German with African ancestry, cut a record in occupied Paris. Their sound will become legend, but in Nazi Europe jazz is the degenerate music of half-breeds, or <i>mischlings</i>. When the band&rsquo;s frontman, the young trumpeter <span>Hieronymus Falk, nicknamed Hiero, rashly decides to venture outside for a glass of milk, he is arrested.</span></p> <p>A shy 19-year-old, Hiero is the locus of his band&rsquo;s hopes and an undisputed genius. In one scene Louis Armstrong gifts the boy with his trumpet. But as one of Germany&rsquo;s &lsquo;Rhineland Bastards,&rsquo; (the offspring of German women and <span>French-Senegalese colonial soldiers posted in the Rhineland following WWI), Hiero is a <i>mischling</i> of the first order and a refugee of sorts: considered stateless in Germany and a despised German in Paris, he&rsquo;s a young man in limbo, an easy target. When Hiero is banished to a concentration camp and presumed dead, what remains of the band disintegrates. </span></p> <p>The virtuosity of Edugyan&rsquo;s writing is noticeable in how Hiero, who serves as a projection screen for the motivations of others, is himself barely sketched. The narrator is Sid Griffiths, a jealous bassist whose talents at rendering the sounds of jazz into words, in a brassy, thumping patois, overshadows his musical abilities.</p> <p>Fifty years later, Sid is a retired medical transcriber in Baltimore with a secret: he committed a betrayal that sent Hiero to the camps. When his old bandmate Chip turns up, he informs Sid that Hiero is alive. As they set out to find him, the story moves between the dawn of a reunified Europe and Sid&rsquo;s flashbacks from the early days of the war. The old man&rsquo;s shame is slowly exhumed&mdash;along with the complex implications of the band members&rsquo; skin colors, nationalities and ethnicities in hostile territory.</p> <p>And yet Edugyan avoids the familiar tropes of Nazi thuggery. Rather than dwelling on their well-documented rape and mayhem proclivities, she reveals how the <span>Red-Hot Swingers transform the Nazi Party anthem into protest music. </span></p> <p><span>The novel's surprising end, and Edugyan herself, are proof that </span>the <i>mischling </i>experience beautifies art in all of its forms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Riff Books Civil Liberties Fri, 24 Feb 2012 11:08:00 +0000 Rinku Patel 164881 at The Thousand Autumns of David Mitchell <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><em>"Who was blowing on the nape of my neck?"</em> When the opening line of <a href="" target="_blank">David Mitchell</a>'s debut novel, <em><a href="" target="_blank">Ghostwritten</a></em>, first introduced itself to me, I disappeared into the folds of a couch for several days, reading. I would have to be pried loose again and again. While I plodded through the milestones of my twenties, through schools, jobs, and relationships, Mitchell's other books were born, one after another. They grew into my good friends, and woe to anyone who crossed them. When a girlfriend said, "I got that <em>Black Swan</em> Something you recommended, but&hellip;" I nearly chalked up faint interest to irreconcilable differences. My fianc&eacute;, quite aware of my rising loyalties and/or hostilities, smartly took a stab at <em><a href="" target="_blank">Cloud Atlas</a></em>.</p> <p>It's hard to pin Mitchell down: His writing roves time, place, continents, and genres. He employs "tricksy" pomo devices, except when he doesn't, as in the case of the tender bildungsroman <em><a href="" target="_blank">Black Swan Green</a></em>. Unlike many fiercely intellectual novelist-poets, an inviting humor inhabits his prose. His most recent novel, an East-West love story, is set in a flagging Dutch trading outpost in early 19th century Japan. He makes it work.</p> <p>This summer, as the American publicity machine kicked into high gear&mdash;to introduce, it seems, <a href="" target="_blank">all five of the English novelist's books simultaneously</a> to a US audience&mdash;critical acclaim tended to focus on Mitchell's playfulness with structure. For me, it's more a toss-up between his gift for story and the language, juiced of every last drop, that soaks the page.</p> <p>I caught up with Mitchell last month over dinner at a noisy restaurant in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, near a bookstore which he would soon fill more densely than the Chinatown bus on Saturday mornings. I brought along my husband, <em><a href="" target="_blank">Mother Jones</a></em><a href="" target="_blank"> reporter Josh Harkinson</a>. The father of two young children, Mitchell spoke about <a href="" target="_blank">his new novel</a>, Sarah Palin, and why characters are like snowballs.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/media/2010/08/david-mitchell-interview"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Media Interview Books Media Top Stories Sat, 21 Aug 2010 10:00:00 +0000 Rinku Patel 74166 at Alonzo King's Delicious Dance <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>When introducing the world premiere of <em>Refractions</em> on Friday, the choreographer Alonzo King of San Francisco's Lines Ballet told the audience to treat the dance as food. Even if the food seems strange, King said, taste it anyways. Since he founded his company 27 years ago in San Francisco, King has blended together African dance, ballet and contemporary movement into the ingredients of his choreography. If Refractions, King's latest work, is food, it is a meal of small plates, some quite delicious, others quotidian, brought course by individual course to the audience. King serves it up with the help of legendary New York jazz pianist Jason Moran, who created an original score for this work that owes much to Charles Mingus.</p> <p>Capitalizing upon the frisson of traditional ballet and contemporary style, King composes Refractions mostly as a string of little dances: solos and duets, and occasionally duets turned trios, upon the arrival of a third dancer who becomes the principal in the next section. In the opening salvo, David Harvey delivers Caroline Roche literally by the hair, and an off kilter tug of war ensues in which the audience is treated to flexing, torso-thrusting movements that are peppered by Moran's jazzy effects. In ensuing courses, dancers contort, pirouette and leap romantically, thuddingly, or jauntily, in accompaniment to a range of music, including some drums. When the movement and music are perfectly intertwined, this works wonderfully; when they aren&rsquo;t, there&rsquo;s a sense of hollow shapes being made on stage without consideration for musical propulsion. Still, King and his dancers often achieve a seamless momentum through some lovely sequences.</p> <p>King is among a handful of venerable choreographers who first harnessed other genres to create new and "strange" movement out of the familiarity of the classical western art form of ballet. Likewise, Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre and Philadanco combine ballet, contemporary dance, and African dance to varying degrees, and their popularity has inoculated the audience of the notion that melding these dance forms is exotic. In fact, many contemporary dance companies today regularly fuse ballet, modern and non-western dance, and laboratories for dance such as the American Dance Festival showcase cutting-edge choreographers who interweave dance forms to create new movement that is not just beautiful, but that is truly new and meaningful. In <em>Refractions</em>, King has created some tasty food, but strange it is not.</p> <p>Lines Ballet will tour various cities in Europe and the Unites States beginning in early 2010.<br> &nbsp;</p></body></html> Riff Wed, 28 Oct 2009 17:03:13 +0000 Rinku Patel 28681 at In American Violet, Roses for Nicole Beharie <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>In a homespun start to the movie <a href=""><em>American Violet</em></a>, Dee Roberts (the exceptional Nicole Beharie), a young mother of four, lovingly waters her potted violets. Before the roots have drunk their share, a police task force has swooped into Dee's housing project in Melody, TX, and conducted a military-style raid. Dee's daughter, caught in the eye of the storm, holds her grandmother's heirloom pottery in the parking lot. There are gunmen on all sides. She is saved; the dish breaks. This overwrought metaphor of family ruin is realized when Dee is then arrested at the diner where she works, charged with distributing narcotics in a school zone.</p> <p>Once in jail, Dee is assigned to a court-appointed lawyer who, the film suggests, is really there to represent the local DA's interests in furthering prosecutions. Claiming that the police have incriminating audio tapes, the lawyer urges Dee to accept a plea bargain that would spring her from jail. But Dee will have none of it. Innocent, she'd rather wait it out in jail than accept a guilty plea that would label her a felon and deny her future government assistance. Who will win, Dee or the slimy DA? Is the answer a surprise?</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/riff/2009/05/american-violet-flower-rough"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Riff Film and TV Wed, 06 May 2009 18:33:53 +0000 Rinku Patel 23630 at