Monday, April 11, 2011

Slaughter on a Snowy Morn - Colin Evans

Slaughter on a Snowy Morn
by Colin Evans
Icon Books, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

A true story of conspiracy and the death penalty, Slaughter on a Snowy Morn is a riveting account of a man framed for a double murder which he didn't commit - that of his employer and his housekeeper. Evans goes into intricate detail to construct the events which led German immigrant Charles Stielow to death row at Sing Sing. Against a backdrop of politics, vote garnering and corrupt prosecutors, Stielow faces a looming appointment with the electric chair which is deferred in crucial moments. Relief and apprehension are woven so tightly they appear to be a reflection of each other.

Confessions obtained by torture, an elaborate, unsigned testimony allegedly by Stielow himself - whose vocabulary is extremely limited and whose mental age is likened to that of a child, to racism, media manipulation and testimony from an unreliable forensic expert whose sole task was to incriminate Stielow and the unflinching truth coming from Stielow himself - he was innocent.

A group of activists and lawyers with the means to exert influence start campaigning for his release. The characters are in great contrast with each other, especially Thomas Matt Osborne, the warden at Sing Sing who is a staunch opponent of the death penalty and eventually faces some fabricated charges himself. Conscience battles with prestige and electoral promise, eventually leading Governor Whitman to issue a pardon.

Forensic techniques aside, Evans captures the brutal character of a law that turns a blind eye to, or fails to recognise corruption within its parameters. A reminder that justice and its upholders at times reveal a sinister visage that lies beneath the eloquent rhetoric of safeguarding society. An affirmation that pardon did not reflect an administration of justice in this case. The corruption that justice seeks to eliminate is embedded within its own system.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Heart Specialist - Claire Holden Rothman

The Heart Specialist
by Claire Holden Rothman
Oneworld Publications, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

This novel is replete with social expectations in the background of the 1900's. Agnes White's ambition to study medicine is in contrast with the norms of the era, but so is the narration of her life. Dissecting squirrels at a young age and the aim to follow in her father's footsteps sets her apart from a family that is more accepting of their role in that particular era.

Memory, time and society are woven into a single narrative that entices readers to think about questions that waver in mind since the first pages of the book. A collection of preserved hearts, a heart treasured above all others, a name that becomes the objective of a significant journey to embrace a fragment of Agnes's past. Relationships seem to veer towards a memory - Agnes and her father before an abandonment which she is unable to decipher, and cloisters the memory into the confines of adoration.

There is gracefulness in a narration that is at once historical and practical, contradictions that seem perfectly normal for enthusiasts in the medical sphere and a little crowd of people that matter, despite doubt, despite the uncertainties that hinder Agnes from assuming a sure recognition of her past.

A persistent question remains until the end of the book, and perhaps makes its way beyond the epilogue. In a story woven around the study of human hearts, is it legitimate to seek a past that another has intentionally vowed to conceal?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Marxism - A Graphic Guide by Rupert Woodfin and Oscar Zarate

Marxism - A Graphic Guide
by Rupert Woodfin and Oscar Zarate
Icon Books, 2009

Review by Ramona Wadi

An alternative approach to political thought, Marxism - A Graphic Guide introduces the reader to Marx and his political works through comics. Starting off with "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains ..." the reader is taken on an introductory journey of Marxism and the way Marxism was adopted and at times even twisted, in the name of revolution.

The ten major points of the Communist Manifesto grace the introduction to the book, contrasted by ten points of Marxist criticism as a conclusion. Readers embark on a journey that is philosophical, economical and revolutionary. Marx's view on the dialectic is that without contradictory opinions, we would be constrained to accept imperfect explanations of the world. The dialectic therefore, is vital if one is to study a society that is continuously changing.

The theory of alienation deserves a special mention, as it is a process which manipulates humanity into its own distortion. Workers need to be aware of their own enslavement in order to achieve the foundations of revolution. Alienation is not confined to a single type of society or nation - it is a worldwide condition of humanity. This makes revolution an international struggle - according to Marx the concept of a revolution is incomplete if it is confined to a single nation.

The book also provides brief overviews of the Russian Revolution and the prominent people associated with the revolution, Stalin, Lenin and Trotsky. Post-Marxist thought is brought to the reader with an overview of Italian communist Antonio Gramsci, who claimed that ideology could either hasten the path to revolution or prevent it from happening.

Point eight in the Marxist criticism states that an alternative to revolution is democratic transition. However, given what we know of democracy and the way it alienates society with its concepts of majority and minority, maybe it is appropriate that one revisits the book from its very introduction - the proclamation of unity for the workers.