Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Gendarme - Mark Mustian

The Gendarme
by Mark Mustian
Oneworld Publications, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

The Gendarme entices the reader into a narrative replete with diverging realities and themes. A World War One veteran who has been diagnosed with a brain tumor experiences a forgotten, distant reality through dreams. With detailed flashbacks, the march of Armenians being deported from Turkey eclipses the present life of Emmet Conn. The Armenian girl with mismatched eyes becomes Conn's objective of a second journey - that of finding her and reconciling himself with an important sliver of the past.

The journey to Aleppo is fraught with violence, illness and spite which descends into hatred. It is also a stage which exposes the brutality of the powerful over the helpless. One cannot help but wonder whether the gendarme would have altered his personality had the girl with mismatched eyes been missing from the scene. But as with many other instances in life, a slight difference in a mundane reality can change perception, and the change in perception brings about a change in character, who now felt a sense of responsibility and protection towards the deportees.

The novel explores memory and the way it is altered by experiences, the assimilation and change of personal identity. Emmet Conn was born Ahmet Khan, but upon his arrival in the United States, his name is Americanised, eliminating the identity that was his birthright. Another theme is the common mistake of categorising people and the assumption that recollections through dreams are a side effect of medication, thus eliminating the essential identity that makes each person unique due to the realities experienced in life.

Above all, the parallel themes of political borders and love are a reminder that wars, conflict and borders may continue threatening to split the world into confines restricted by travel and citizenship, elaborated on maps and identified by the language of the patriot. However, the shallow and hypocritical nature of political borders falls prey to its own manacles, distorting itself in the echoes of humanity that bore the scars, embraced a loss and returned to the philosophy of peaceful survival.

Monday, March 28, 2011

50 Campaigns to Shout About - Ellie Levenson

50 Campaigns to Shout About
by Ellie Levenson
One World Publications, 2011
Review by Ramona Wadi

An essential book for anyone involved in activism, and for those who may be reluctant to delve further into this realm, 50 Campaigns to Shout About is practical and covers a vast array of subjects - serving as an incentive for readers and activists to promulgate the voices of those minorities that are so often identified as 'the other'.

The introduction quickly slams the notion of helplessness as we are reminded that there are many ways in which we can contribute to raising awareness and campaigning. There are many instances where the enormity of a social or global issue as portrayed by the media seems overwhelming and inaccessible. We fail to realise that fragments of the problems we read about are a reality in our society. Racism, child labour, human trafficking, blood diamonds, torture, indigenous people, animal rights, environmental issues, mental health ... Many people contribute unwittingly to the oppression of the freedom that is inherent in everyone. Lack of education, prejudice, lack of interest in how certain goods reach our markets. Many times, the lack of direct contact with an issue suppresses the reality for others who might not discern, or else observe and ignore a problem, because it is not an immediate concern.

Flimsy excuses are targeted with the expectation of elimination in this book. The concept of activism is simplified and illustrated further with interviews, information on technical details and an array of references at the end of each topic.There is no reason why one should not become an activist, even the most reluctant. A simple reflection by every individual in society is sure to bring up an issue which strikes a chord deep enough to awaken the necessity to intervene. As it is, activists will no longer be necessary when the world reaches a tangible perfection, which is to say, never. Therefore, the book is significant enough to challenge social consciousness into embracing activism as an elevated form of necessity - that of rising above oppression to challenge mainstream philosophy and its repercussions on the multitude of minorities around the world.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Fidel and Che - A Revolutionary Friendship by Simon Reid-Henry

Fidel and Che - A Revolutionary Friendship
By Simon Reid-Henry
Sceptre, 2008
Review by Ramona Wadi
A compelling biography of the companeros, Fidel and Che - A Revolutionary Friendship brings to light the struggled for a united Latin America, and the bond between the two historical leaders of revolution. A narrative historical testimony of a friendship that was as revolutionary as the lives they lead, embracing a struggle for justice. Simon Reid-Henry portrays their unique place in the history of the world, as their politics shaped not only Cuba, but the struggle for revolution worldwide.
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara met in 1955, during exile in Mexico. Fidel had left Cuba after his release from the Isle of Pines, where he was imprisoned for orchestrating the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks. The trial and his famous History Will Absolve Me defence speech had ensured him a place in the Cuban political sphere. In his speech he had already outlined his philosophy, and his name had become synonymous with the promise of overthrowing the corrupt Batista dictatorship.

Che Guevara had left Guatemala, already having been in contact with trade union movements and rebel groups. The path of revolution had spread before him, affirming that the only solution against foreign intervention is to fight. Indicative of a view expressed in his travels was his disregard for borders and citizenship. Revolution was a universal concept to Che. When he aligned himself alongside Fidel and the Cuban revolution, Che did so on the condition that once the Revolution triumphed, he would spread the revolution to the rest of Latin America.

The triumph of the Cuban revolution in January 1959 also signified the battle of the revolution against imperialism - a cause common to both Fidel and Che. Countless assassination attempts against Fidel, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the US embargo and Che's cowardly assassination by CIA trained soldiers in Bolivia also ensured that the philosophy of the Cuban revolution strengthened.

Throughout the years in which the companeros worked towards a common goal, certain differences stemmed in the perception of how these goals would be achieved. Whilst Fidel was impressed with the Soviet Union, Che was drawn to the Chinese model of communism. Fidel was the leader of the Revolution, with a responsibility towards the nation. Che was the guerrilla revolutionary who wanted to spread the revolution.

Their lives took on different paths when Che formally renounced his Cuban citizenship to prepare for revolution in Bolivia. However, the murder of Che in Bolivia failed to bring about any permanent consolation for the imperialists who had for so long awaited the destruction of communism in Cuba. Fidel remained, now a solitary figure of revolution and with the responsibility to ensure that the ideals they had both shared would not be corroded with time.

Reid-Henry's book evokes a bond which few people can claim to share, and which may, indeed be unique to these extraordinary individuals. Despite the realisation that the companeros achieved greater milestones when they worked together, the permanent separation brought about by Che Guevara's death ensured that the ideals lived on, embodied in Fidel and Che - a struggle that endures, resonates in the cries of revolution and a realisation that tragedy and its repercussions can transcend the confines of imperialist politics.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Motorcycle Diaries - Notes on a Latin American Journey by Ernesto Che Guevara

The Motorcycle Diaries - Notes on a Latin American Journey
Ernesto Che Guevara
Published by Ocean Press, in association with the Che Guevara Studies Center, Havana, 2003

Review by Ramona Wadi

An unconventional recollection that seems to be the prelude to the cry of Hasta la victoria siempre! Patria o muerte! Embarking on a journey to discover Ernesto on his way to becoming Che, one realises that Che was there prior to the history that shaped his name into a worthy revolutionary memorial.

In December 1951 Ernesto set out on a trip from Buenos Aires, travelling to Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, together with his friend, Alberto Granado. From the cordillera in the Andes, Ernesto writes "I know now, by an almost fatalistic conformity with the facts, that my destiny is to travel ..." In between anecdotes of travel and publicity in Chile, as the pair got themselves mentioned on a newspaper as "Two Argetine Leprosy Experts Tour Latin America by Motorcycle", Ernesto's reflections are profound and indicative of a philosophy that would not acquiesce to the exploitation of Latin America. Already, in a speech given prior to their departure from the San Pablo Leper colony, Ernesto calls the division of Latin America "completely fictional". The disregard and comtempt for political borders and categorising of nations and people seems to have been reinforced by the observations throughout the journey.

The political reflections become more prominent as Ernesto and Alberto come into contact with the campesinos - a married Chilean communist couple who recount their reality of prison and mysterious disappearances of friends. The yearning for better quality of life was suppressed by the fact that people were slaves of higher authorities and need battled with dignity, so that the workers were coerced into working under other miserable conditions in the sulphur mines for a "few meagre crumbs" which failed to sustain their lives. Ernesto describes the conditions of the mines as " ... so hard that you don't need a work permit", thus exposing the cycle of oppressive need.

A mere eight years after this Latin American Journey, the Cuban revolution had triumphed and Ernesto Che Guevara had become one of the central figures of the Cuban revolution. Perhaps a confirmation of his revolutionary choices is found in the epilogue of this diary - an assertion to be with the people, "the great equalizer of individual will".

The memories of a journey had transformed into a reason for revolution.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fidel Castro Handbook - book review first published by Green Left Weekly

‘We have made a revolution that is bigger than us’
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Fidel Castro no longer holds presidential office, but his influence continues to inspire a nation and revolutionary movements worldwide.
Fidel Castro Handbook
By George Galloway
MQ Publications, 2006
Review by Ramona Wadi
In the introduction, to the Fidel Castro Handbook author George Galloway describes himself as “a partisan for Cuba, for the revolution, for the leadership”. While a partisan view may be shunned in journalistic terms Galloway has no hesitation in embracing a revolution and being loyal to a cause that inspired working class and other exploited people throughout the world.

Through interviews about Castro with Cuban leaders Ramiro Valdes, Ricardo Alarcon and Abel Prieto, an identity is unraveled — that of a restless leader with a capacity to analyse, interpret and anticipate political and global events.

Fidel, the boy from Biran (a rural area in Cuba’s Oriente province), witnessed and experienced events that stirred in him awareness of the differences in social class. From his early childhood years to the dangerous, political intrigues he took part in at the Havana University, Castro was a rebel with a cause — that of restoring dignity to the workers and freeing them from bondage and excessive need.

Insight into Fidel’s mind comes from his assertion that “the intellectual author of this revolution is Jose Marti, the apostle of independence.”

Prieto said Fidel Castro perceived culture as “essential for the defence of our national identity”. A revolution without culture cannot be sustained, and one of the many triumphs of the revolution was the eradication of illiteracy in Cuba in a very short time, less than that of developed countries.

With the rate of medical students growing every year, Cuba offers a lot of humanitarian aid to war-ravaged countries and those struck with natural disasters. Many countries send soldiers — a contradictory effort towards peace keeping, and it is a source of pride to Castro that Cuban aid translates into treatment and care for those in need.

In January, contrasting his country’s response to the Haitian earthquake to that of the US, Castro said: “We send doctors, not soldiers.”
Cuba has also provided free health care for more than 18,000 Ukrainian children affected by the Chernobyl disaster.

For Castro, history has a profound meaning. It has meant supporting revolutions elsewhere in the world, and an adamant belief that the ideas of socialism will prevail. The aggression against Cuba in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, the countless assassination attempts on Castro’s life, the attempted kidnapping of six-year-old Elian Gonzales, the imprisonment and isolation of the Cuban 5 and the economic blockade imposed by the US would have been condemned had the same actions been taken by another power against a US ally.

Cuba and Castro are no longer isolated. The socialist revolutionary movement that capitalism assumed it had conquered with the assassination of Che Guevara is entering a new era of global importance with elected leaders such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.

The book shows Castro’s capacity to explain and defend the revolution using a brilliant memory and insight into the havoc caused by capitalism and globalisation on Third World countries.

In this handbook, we see Castro as a leader of a revolution based on pursued justice, not revenge and his confidence that defied the common assumption that Cuba would flounder without the Soviets.

The Fidel Castro Handbook is beautifully illustrated with historical photographs. The book also illustrates how the people relate to their leader.

Che Guevara said that is hard to think of a revolutionary lacking the quality of love. And Castro reflected this with his adamant principle that revolutionaries cannot bear vengeance.

Castro no longer holds presidential office, but his influence continues to inspire a nation and revolutionary movements worldwide.

The striking element in Galloway’s book is the belief that the same unity and passion can be ignited in many other nations. There seems a certainty that socialism needs to be translated into a reality. Ricardo Alarcon recalls Castro saying: “We have made a revolution that is bigger than us.”