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Posts Tagged ‘Homer’

Dearer to the Vultures

June 2, 2016 | by

How the perspective of war stories has shifted—from gods to guns.

From the cover of the American edition of Anatomy of a Soldier.

My memories of war are fractured: faces disappear like smoke while literal plumes of smoke, their specific shapes and forms, linger on vividly for years. I remember the mesh netting, concrete, and dust smell of tower guard, but the events of entire months are completely gone. I remember the sound of a kid’s voice, but not anything he actually said. I guess that’s what Tim O’Brien meant when he wrote about Vietnam, “What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning or end.”

Memories of people, too complex to carry through the years, fall apart. It’s easier to find purchase on memories of objects. The weapon I was assigned on my first deployment to Iraq was an M249 SAW, or what we would colloquially and inaccurately refer to as the “Squad Assault Weapon.” I remember the way it felt to disassemble—the slight give of the heat-shield assembly, its tiny metal pincers clinging to the barrel. I remember the sound of the feed tray snapping shut on a belt of ammunition. And I remember the tiny rust deposits on the legs of my weapon’s bipod, which would never go away, no matter how hard I scrubbed with CLP (Cleaner, Lubricant, and Protectant oil). I remember my SAW’s voice and the things it said. Read More »

The Art of War Reporting: An Interview with Janine di Giovanni

May 2, 2016 | by

Photo: Rannjan Joawn

I met the war reporter Janine di Giovanni more than a decade ago, when I was a new expatriate in Paris. Her bohemian apartment, half a block from the Tuilerie Gardens, was filled with journalists, writers, newspaper editors, and members of NGOs from places I had only read about. On the table were large bowls of pasta drenched in butter and truffles—she’s from a large Italian American family from New Jersey—and an inviting assortment of open bottles of red wine. Our children, both a year old, became best friends in the way only children can, and remain so to this day. Janine remains the only person I know who’s canceled a playdate with the excuse that she had “to go to Syria on Thursday.”

Known for her wrenching and immediate dispatches from Sarajevo, Sierra Leone, Iraq, and Syria for the London Times, Janine took an unusual road to war reporting. She went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for fiction and completed a master’s degrees in comparative literature at the University of London. Her conversion to war reporting came, she says, when she saw a photograph of an Israeli soldier burying a Palestinian teen alive with a bulldozer full of sand. “It disturbed me horribly—so I went. I met a human-rights lawyer who took me to the refugee camps and said, If you have the ability to write about people who have no voice, then you have an obligation. And that was that.”

Giovanni is currently the Middle East editor of Newsweek. Her books include Ghosts by Daylight: A Memoir of War and Love; The Place at the End of the World: Essays from the Edge; Against the Stranger, about the effect of occupations during the first intifada on both Palestinians and Israelis; and The Quick and The Dead, about the siege of Sarajevo. Her latest, The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches from Syria, is out this week. I spoke with her reporter-style by Skype—I reached her in Paris, where she still lives. 

The stories you tell are steeped in tragedy—the death of a child, the violent torture of a prisoner of war. How do you conceive of your reader, who is, after all, not a war reporter and isn’t used to this?

My attitude is, I hope readers are upset by this. That’s what I want to do, shock them out of their complacency. But I’m not doing it deliberately. Some reviews of my latest book would say, There’s no holds barred, she tells these bitter stories incredibly graphically. But I just told my readers what my reporting had told me. I didn’t exaggerate, I didn’t add to anything. I didn’t have to. Read More »

One Wine, Two Wine, Red Wine, Blue Wine

February 10, 2015 | by

Naming wines in translation.

Georg_Emanuel_Opiz,_Der_Saufer_1804

Georg Emanuel Opitz, Der Säufer, 1804.

If, to bedazzle your beau or belle, your tastes often turn to thoughts of white tablecloths and candlelight, your thoughts will likely turn to tastes of wine.

But which wine? It can be hard to navigate those artisanal descriptions, so easy to mock—notes of saddle leather, jujubes, and turpentine with a hint of combed cotton, and so on. The basic questions are no simpler, though. “Red or white?” ignores orange wine, whites tinted a little longer than usual from the grape skins: basically the opposite of rosé, where red-wine grapes are peeled faster than usual. There’s also gray wine (vin gris, actually pinkish), which is white wine from black grapes usually used for red wine such as pinot noir, and even yellow wine (vin jaune), a special variety from the Jura in eastern France, though what white wine isn’t yellow when you think about it. Provençal pink wines—rosés—are colored gooseberry, peach, grapefruit, cantaloupe, mango, or mandarin, according to the Provence Wine Council: vote for your favorite here. Read More »

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Gatsby-Jazz, and Other News

August 6, 2013 | by

chapters_04gatsbyjazz

  • “Over the years, I’d purchased books on Indian philosophy, Nepali architecture, alpine flowers, Hatha yoga, spirit possession, as well as old copies of The Paris Review, and I frequented the store long enough to see my own collection of short stories appear in the section for Nepali authors.” Kathmandu’s Pilgrims Book House rebounds, slowly, from a devastating fire. 
  • The Generative Gatsby lays out the text of Fitzgerald’s novel like music scores, designed along the lines of twenties-era jazz.
  • Scholastic Book Club is dead; long live Scholastic Reading Club!
  • “The phrase is alluring, stirring, and indistinctly evocative. It is also, strictly speaking, incomprehensible, and for all the time the phrase has been relished, readers and scholars have debated what the term actually means.” What, exactly, did Homer mean by “wine-dark sea” … if that’s even what he said?
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    Dating the Iliad, and Other News

    March 1, 2013 | by

    geneticists-estimate-publication-date-of-the-illiad_1

    • Geneticists estimate that the Iliad was written in 762 B.C., “give or take fifty years.” This squares with what classicists believe, too.
    • Barnes & Noble says that rumors of its death are greatly exaggerated.
    • Today in fearless luxury, these bespoke bindings are very beautiful.
    • And speaking of books as status symbols: the book in medieval portraiture.
    • The critics have spoken! The winners of the 2012 National Book Critics Circle awards are: Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (fiction);  Andrew Solomon, Far from the Tree (nonfiction); Leanne Shapton, Swimming Studies (autobiography);  Marina Warner, Stranger Magic (criticism); Robert Caro, The Passage of Power (biography); and D. A. Powell, Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (poetry).

     

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    The Iliad, Improved: An Illustrated Panorama

    August 23, 2012 | by

    These panels tell the story of Ajax, as related in the Iliad and by Sophocles. I’d originally intended to treat the story without embellishment but just couldn’t allow poor Ajax to fall on his own sword at the end. Homer’s world is populated with people driven by mad and almost childlike uncontrollable passions. They did not reflect deeply on their actions. When I think social media has just about driven me bonkers and start lamenting modern times, I need only consider the senseless, sensation-drunk world of the Iliad and Odyssey to realize that every age on record has been frantically moving toward self-destruction.

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