They Smoke Cigarettes and Play with Bombs

João Cerqueira, trans. Karen Bennett and Chris Mingay
River Grove Books

the-tragedy-of-fidel-castro_joc3a3o-cerqueira1The Tragedy of Fidel Castro is an entertaining jaunt into political and religious irreverence.  Communism, capitalism and Catholicism all get a heart lashing as God intervenes, at the beck of Fàtima, in a war between Fidel Castro and JFK.  In the meanwhile, the nature of politics, humanity and religion are also given for the reader to consider.

I’m sad to confess that I did not really get a lot of the humour in the book.  I’m not sure if this is because the nature of humour I enjoy is just different to that present in this book; whether it’s a difference in Portuguese and Spanish humour as compared to humour in the Anglosphere.  Or perhaps it’s just a few of the references I miss, with my relative ignorance of matters concerning post-Bay of Bigs relations between Cuba and the United States.

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Only a Shadow Remained of Him

Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury, 2009) ISBN: 978 1 4088 0087 4 14

If you’d like to (I’m not your real mom, I can’t make you), this video I’ve attached seems thematically appropriate. The song, a cover of Wishful Thinking’s Hiroshima by German band Puhdys–though it is of course about the wrong city–ran through my head a number of times as I read Burnt Shadows. Because this book is, amongst other things, about a nuclear world, the Cold War, and the constant two minutes to midnight. I’ve provided an original, literal and probably poor translation of the German lyrics, which are themselves a more poetic translation of the original English lyrics, below the video.

Only a shadow remains of him*, in Hiroshima
Silent as fire
But nobody knows, in Hiroshima,
Stone becomes a scream.
And it cries, “Remember well,
Or you will bring the embers** like here.”

Fly, my song, to Hiroshima
Fly to the shadow stones
And promise the man in Hiroshima
That it will never happen again
Because the world remembers*** well —
Or they will bring embers like Hiroshima****.

*This may also be “it”, ie, “the bomb”, which is a feminine noun, but changes in its dative form.
**The original word, “Glut” has a number of possible appropriate meanings, including “blaze”, “glow” or “fervour” as well.
***It’s possible there’s an imperative attached to the word “remember” that I’ve missed.
****The delivery of this line suggests a pun on here/Hiroshima.

Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie is a story about the world’s unluckiest woman. Hiroko Tanaka is caught up in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. After recovering from her injuries and accepting her grief, she finds her way after the war to an India on the cusp of Independence and Partition. Later, as the blurb reveals–so no spoilers here–she spends some time in Pakistan before managing to be present in New York in time for September 11. Crikey. Yet she survives it all and, truth be told, the story is not at all as melodramatic or contrived as it might sound.

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