The books have been piling up again. So here are some short reviews of a few- fiction, journalism, poetry- that have recently come my way.
1) The Stone Face by William Gardner Smith. NYRB. Simeon, an African-American journalist not similar from the author, decides, after a confrontation with a group of sailors in his native Philadelphia, to exchange the racism of America for the racial tolerance of early 1960s Paris. This at a time when the city of lights was considered a sanctuary, particularly for many black American writers, painters and musicians. But Simeon discovers that Paris has its own form of racism, in this case directed at the Algerian population. This at a time when the Algerian war for independence was reaching its final stage. Simeon discovers that, despite his skin colour, he is considered the enemy, by default implicated in his country's foreign crimes. And that he and his fellow African Americans are only a step away from being thought of as white. Unlike most of his ex-pat friends, Simeon realises the contradiction that he, as an American, is entangled, and chooses to side with the Algerians. According to Adam Shatz, in his informative introduction, The Stone Face was the first novel anywhere to address the 1961 Paris massacre in which the head of police, Papon, a Nazi collaborator and official in the Vichy government, sent scores of Algerian demonstrators to their death. When it comes to addressing the politics of racism and America's place in the world, Smith's book compares favourably with the writing of any other ex-pat of that era, including the likes of Baldwin, Himes and Wright.
Now Let's See What You're Gonna Do, Poems 1978-2002 (The Divers Collection, fmsbw) by Katerina Gogou. These poems are so full of fire, so human, so reckless and vulnerable, that they threaten to burn up in your hands. As personal as they are political, these poems, for the most part, do not make for easy reading, and are not for the faint hearted. Nevertheless, they remain inspiriing. A well known Greek actor and leftist, Gogou killed herself in 1993, having reached the end of her tether emotionally as well as politically. Only for her writing to be resurrected by such admirers as poets Sean Bonney, Jack Hirschman and Nanos Valaoritis. One wonders how Gogou would have responded, poetically and politically, had she lived to see recent events in her country, from the rise and fall of Syriza to the resurgence of fascists like those in Golden Dawn. Hirschman says the Greek Communist Party is evoked in her poems like a lover who has betrayed her. And perhaps that is so. Certainly her poems, like those of Pasolini, move beyond the organised left, to the heart and soul of the marginalised, a call to arms to claim a space for the dispossessed and vulnerable that she hoped would emerge from the page. Who knows, perhaps one day her poems might succeed in doing just that.