What to Read, What to Watch in May 2023

I stumbled across an excellent Nordic Noir mystery Bitter Flowers by Gunnar Staalesen.  A body surfaces in a rich couple’s swimming pool in Bergen, Norway’s second city.  A private investigator just released from a dry-out clinic tries to resuscitate him but fails. Teams of environmentalists occupy a dangerous chemical factory.  And a hippie couple’s 7-year-old daughter goes missing. These are the ingredients of an excellent and clever mystery. 

Talking about noir, there’s a short fiction story I downloaded from Amazon. It’s called Noir written by Linda Mannheim.  It’s a political thriller about betrayal at the time of the US government’s illegal support for Contras in the 1980s. Maybe you remember when the US sold arms to Iran, and used the  money to fund the Contras right-wing death squads and worse in Central America – especially to fight the socialist government in Nicaragua. It’s a free ebook download on Amazon.

Meet the ghostwriter for (former) Prince Harry’s recent book Spare.  In a delightful article in the New Yorker you can read about US writer JR Moehringer who built a relationship with Harry, and Moehringer’s own attempts to break out of ghostwriting to author his own novels.  A very nice, even humorous read here

The PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) became well-known in the early 1970s when they hijacked several planes – to bring the world’s attention to Israel’s illegal, military occupation of Palestine.  A 12-year old girl, Martha Hodes, and her teenage sister, were on a plane flying from Tel Aviv to New York City, when it was hijacked by a PLO cell and flown to Jordan.  In Remembering My Hijacking, Martha, now nearly 60, writes a fascinating account of what happened on the plane and during those six days in September 1970, how she and her sister kept detailed diaries, and what life was like on the tarmac, and inside the “ghost” plane. It’s in The New Yorker.  An excellent and unexpected article.  It’s here. Hodes’ book is coming out in June.

The Canadian online left-wing magazine, The Breach, has a solid article by Dru Oja Jay, How Public Sector Workers Redistribute Wealth and Promote Equality.  He shows how for workers, better work, improved working conditions and higher pay are enjoyed by those who work in the public sector, when compared to those in Canada’s private sector.  Public sector workers experience stability of employment, a high rate of unionization, paid sick leave, pension plans and some tipping of the hat to concerns about human rights that private sector workers generally do not.  Here’s a chart from the article, oddly it was taken from the right-wing Fraser Institute, but it’s refreshingly honest. 

I read a Canadian book, Suits and Skirts: Game On! The Battle for Corporate Power by Teresa Freebor.  This >>> book is about how it’s better for business to hire women, promote women and basically listen to women.  I couldn’t agree more.  But this book is little more than a cheer-leader’s account, a Canadian version of the 2013 book, Lean-In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead manifesto by former Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg.  I have to say that Freebor is more feisty and way more refreshing than Sandberg whose suckiness to power, her unquestioning allegiance to the Democratic Party, and solid support for US presidential candidate and war criminal Hillary Clinton was sickening.  Freebor certainly has a way with words, and shoots from the lip.  Not a bad start. 

“The only way a racialized person can be acknowledged is to become institutionalized…. Once you get into the NDP, you need to fall into line…”

Navjot Kaur, candidate for mayor of Edmonton, AB

Briarpatch Magazine has a good article, Who is the NDP for? By Haseena Manek.  She looks at three different races in which women candidates were in effect cut loose by the institutional NDP.  The three women included Anjali Appadurai who ran for BC NDP party leader, Navjot Kaur who ran for mayor of Edmonton, and Kaitlyn Harvey who contested a seat in the Saskatchewan legislature in 2020, and in 2022 ran to lead the province’s NDP. These were all women of colour, and leftists — women who tried to lead in a party in which often “the fix is in”.   As Navjot Kaur points out in the article, “The only way a racialized person can be acknowledged is to become institutionalized… Once you get into the NDP, you need to fall into line…” Well worth reading, it’s here.

Briarpatch illustration of Anjali Appadurai (left) & Kaitlyn Harvey by Ryan Olbrysh

What to Watch…

If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front  is an excellent 90 minute documentary film which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2011.  Somehow, given the paucity of activism or organizing, and the current fashion of handwringing when it comes to discussing the environment this film will wallop you.  It starts with a June day in 1997, when before dawn, workers in the city of Eugene, Oregon cut down 40 old growth trees – with the protesters sitting up in them.  Protesters were pepper sprayed and arrested by cops in riot gear.  Enter a young Commerce graduate from an east coast university, who – with others — decided he wanted to take a stand.  You won’t be disappointed, well worth watching.  Watch on Youtube here:

The Hater (2020) is a Polish feature film on Netflix.  It’s amazing.  A young man from the countryside goes to Warsaw. His uncle and aunt have made it possible for him to go to Law school, but he flunks out.  He fails not because he can’t to the academic work, but because he gets involved in an ultra-right and violent movement to topple a leftish mayor – in direct opposition to his liberal-minded aunt and uncle. This is a fascinating film which examines a new kind of fascism that is growing in parts of Europe – and of course here.   The trailer is here.

The Salesman is a play within a film.  An amateur theatre group in Tehran mounts American Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman.  The two key roles are played by a husband (a popular high school teacher by day) and his wife.  Forced out of their apartment because cracks in the building’s walls have rendered it uninhabitable, the couple moves to an apartment once rented by a sex worker.  When a former client of the sex worker enters the apartment to look for the woman, he encounters the wife. The play within the play is brilliant, and the script and acting (of both) are wonderful.  Asghar Farhadi is probably the top filmmaker in Iran.  This film won awards at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards in 2017.  However Farhadi has been blamed for appropriating students’ work, including their scripts, and not giving them credit or even the chance to seriously work on his films. A revealing article about Farhadi is this one in a 2022 New Yorker .    Here is the trailer.  I highly recommend the film. It’s on Netflix.

Hope Gap (2019) is a quiet but excellent British film you can watch on Kanopy.  A husband and wife in their late 50s live a quiet life in a lovely cottage by the sea on England’s south coast. The husband teaches history in a high school, and the wife is a poet and editor.  Their relationship sags under the weight of time, and the fact they were never as suited as they believed they were thirty years before, when they married. Their joy in life comes from their one child, a son in his late twenties who lives and works in London.  The son is a reluctant weekend visitor because his mother smothers him with love as she pries into his life, while his father remains quiet and aloof.  One Sunday, the father tells his son he is leaving and breaking up with his wife.  All hell breaks loose.  The acting is edgey and good.  What would be maudlin and sentimental in an American film, is sharp and well-crafted in Hope Gap. Here’s the trailer.

From Left: The Diplomat (Elle); Hope Gap (Entertainment Weekly); Sexual Drive (Filmaffinity)

Two other films on Kanopy are worth watching.  Tell it Like a Woman (2023) is an anthology of seven short films all directed by female directors from different parts of the world including Italy, India, Japan and the US.  Each segment is an inspirational and empowering story about women, by women, for everyone.  I especially liked the one about the young single mother of two in a two room flat in Japan; the one about the jailed US woman in a drug rehab program, and the story about the Italian woman veterinarian who helps a dog, and its woman owner.  Here’s the trailer

On Kanopy, Sexual Drive (2022) is a delight.  It’s a Japanese film which explores sex, what makes someone attractive, and what makes someone honest in sexual encounters.  It’s very funny, nicely done and well worth watching.  There are three vignettes which at the start do not seem connected but they are by food, by panic and by remorse.  Intriguing!  You can watch the trailer and see for yourself, watch the trailer.

I’m just finishing Rough Diamonds. This series, on Netflix, is unexpectedly brilliant. Chasidic Jews in Antwerp run the diamond trade, but the Wolfson family –who has been in the business for decades — is foundering. One son in the business committed suicide ostensibly because he put the family’s reputation at risk from his gambling and bad business dealings. Another son, more rebelllious, left the family 15 years before to try his luck at doing odd jobs in the drug trade and the underworld in London. The sister is trying to ensure the longevity of the legitimate family business. This is a fascinating film — first because it tells us a lot about customs and the lives of Chasidic Jews and secondly because of the twists and turns of a plot that is scary — yet believable. Actors speak Dutch, Yiddish, English and French — it’s amazing. A must watch with subtitles. Here’s the trailer

The Diplomat is a well-done series on Netflix that features the star of The Americans (my all-time favourite series ), Keri Russell.  She plays the US ambassador to the UK.  She tows along her husband – himself a former ambassador who was was clearly too spirited and acted too much as a lone wolf to be entrusted to another international posting.  Their relationship is fascinating, and watching the two live together – and try to mastermind international minefields with the British – and the Russians —  is great.  This is the first season and I hope there is another. Here’s the trailer.

The Night Manager (2016) on Amazon Prime, starts off okay but then descends to one man against the world. I have a feeling the original book, by John Le Carré was more complex and better scripted than this miniseries.  It’s a well-executed series about a man who starts off as an overly obliging hotel night manager in Cairo and gets recruited by MI6 to stop a major international arms sale to the “baddies” (of course).  Lots of action, one woman (Olivia Coleman) has a major role – a speaking role at that — but the love interest is predictable and ridiculous.  Still it’s full of zest, and fast-paced.  Here is the trailer:  https://youtu.be/JfzzLqzEf-I

Podcasts to Listen to…

It’s well worth listening to the Electronic Intifada here because it’s an interview with Ghada Karmi, a physician and author.  Karmi, whose excellent book Return: A Palestinian Memoir I shall never forget, was born in Jerusalem prior to 1948.  Her family fled in terror that year and settled in England, where she was raised and educated.  Her new book, One State:  The Only Democratic Future for Palestine-Israel is a must read (I’m just about to read it!)

“What you have are people [Israeli Jews] who have grown accustomed to enjoying all the advantaEleges of colonialism without the cost, I mean, wonderful, where else are they going to get that? Now when the Arabs, as they call them, come along and say, ‘Okay, let’s live together in equality,’ it’s anathema to many people like this on the Jewish side. Anathema.” 

Dr Ghada Karmi, interviewed here

The Redeye (Vancouver Co-op Radio) has a good interview with Dr Hassan Diab.  This Canadian citizen has spent 38 months in a French jail, mostly in solitary.  He was accused, now convicted of a crime he did not and could not have committed – the 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue.  Read more in my article in Rabble on Diab, and a more disturbing piece  by Judy Deutsch in Canadian Dimension . Her article correctly implicates the establishment Canadian Jewish community in flagging Diab to CSIS who wrongly persecuted him for 15 years.  The 20 minute interview on Redeye is excellent, it’s here.

Below: Left Ghada Karmi and Ellen Siegel demonstrate against Israel’s law of return in 1973 (credit: Socialist Worker, UK); photo of Hassan Diab, April 2023; logo for Cotton Capital; photo of JoAnn Wilson (credit: Leader Post); Liam Holden after 17 years in prison (credit: Guardian Design/ Getty/ Paul McErland)

I can’t say enough good about The Guardian’s  6-part podcast, Cotton Capital.  This series examines the role of the left-liberal newspaper, once known as the Manchester Guardian, in the trans-Atlantic slave trade since 1821.  The first episode is all about the original founders of The Guardian, who played a role in enslavement of Africans and who funded cotton plantations in the West Indies.  Brilliant.  In the second episode, a British journalist unearths the story about one Jamaican plantation, Success,  linked to a Guardian owner. I just finished the third in the series which looks at the legacy of descendants of enslaved people, the Gullah Geechee, on the handful of small islands off the coast of Georgia (USA), including Sapelo Island. Fascinating.  Don’t miss this series – read more about it here: and listen to it free here.

Memories of Hamburger Helper

Who can forget that Colin Thatcher, convicted murderer, former Saskatchewan MLA and Tory cabinet minister used the alibi he was a home eating a dinner of Hamburger Helper with his two sons and the babysitter when his wife, JoAnn Wilson, was gunned down in her garage in 1983. This three-part podcast, Colin Thatcher and the Murder of JoAnn Wilson from True Canadian Crime is electrifying.  Even 40 years after her death, just listening to details  about Thatcher’s violence toward his ex-wife, the abuse she suffered, his treachery, his turning their children against her, and his blatant misogyny, is more than shocking.  Research for much of this podcast was gleaned from Maggie Siggins’ excellent 1985 book A Canadian Tragedy: JoAnn and Colin Thatcher: A Story of Love and Hate which I highly recommend.  The podcast complements Julie S. Lalonde’s book Resilience is Futile: The Life and Death of Julie S Lalonde.  This podcast is a textbook case on narcissism, male violence and coercive control and powerful men who kill women .  Listen to the podcast here:

The Guardian Long Read podcast “The torture’s real. The time I did was real”: the Belfast man waterboarded by the British army – is well worth listening to.  Liam Holden went to prison for 17 years for the murder of a British soldier in 1972 –it was a false confession made on the basis of his being tortured.  You must listen to this. It’s here.

Noticed:  Former NDP-MP Olivia Chow is a frontrunner in the race for mayor of Toronto.  But the National Post has doubled down on her Chinese heritage – and gone on a tear to link her to at least one pro-China group that once received a federal grant of $160,000.  The Trudeau government better be careful.  Their rants and heavy-handed statements about Chinese Canadian leaders and organizations could easily lead to a huge anti-Chinese backlash, including racist attacks and worse on 1.7 million Chinese-Canadians. In 2021, Chinese-Canadians were 4.6% of Canada’s population.

Noticed:  the fight at the UK’s Guardian newspaper over it publishing an editorial cartoon, deemed ‘anti-semitic’ – but was it?  Read journalist Jonathan Cook’s very fair take on it here https://www.jonathan-cook.net/blog/2023-05-05/guardian-cartoon-row-antisemitism-smears/

Featured Image: The Port House, Antwerp, Belgium. A 2016 project by architects Zaha Hadid has used the Antwerp’s renown as the City of Diamonds. This building, the renewed Port Authority ‘inspired the immense sparkling glass façade that changes appearance according to shifting weather conditions’.

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