World Affairs








  Arts Round-up

A powerful tale of the Spanish Civil War

Set during the Spanish Civil War, Ernest Hemingway's For  Whom The Bell Tolls tells the story of Robert Jordan, a young American who is serving as a demolitions expert for the Republican cause. The novel follows his experiences with a band of guerrilla fighters as he undertakes a mission to blow up a strategic bridge. The whole novel, except for some flashbacks and reminiscences of various characters, covers just a few days.

Although the novel focuses on a small number of characters in a fairly compressed time period, Hemingway attains a real epic feel with this book. The novel is fairly lengthy (471 pages in the 2003 Scribner edition), but is a swift read - indeed, often difficult to put down.

There is much that is noteworthy about this novel. It offers a compelling perspective on war from the viewpoint of guerrilla forces, rather than conventional forces (interested readers might want to check out Mao Tse-Tung's On Guerrilla Warfare for some theoretical and historical perspective). The novel also deals with the phenomenon of ideologically committed foreign forces in Spain's Fascist-versus-Republican conflict.

Hemingway deals with the issues of love and sex in a combat zone, as well as with the roles of women in a guerrilla force. Other significant issues include loyalty, leadership, communications, military hardware, the impact of weather and terrain, and the connection between guerrilla and conventional forces. Particularly interesting is Hemingway's portrait of Robert Jordan as a technically and tactically skilled guerrilla fighter, and as a leader of guerrilla fighters. Thus the book should interest not just lovers of literature, but also serious military professionals and students of the history of warfare.

Hemingway offers a grim and graphic look at the brutality of 20th century warfare. War is not glamorised or sanitised, and atrocities are described in unflinching detail. The characters explore the ethics of killing in war. As the story progresses, Hemingway skillfully peels back the layers of Jordan and other characters to reveal their psychological wounds.

But the book is not all about pain and violence. In the midst of war Hemingway finds the joy and beauty that keep his characters going. He also incorporates storytelling as a powerful motif in the book; his characters share stories with each other, recall missing untold stories, or resist a story too hard to bear. In Hemingway's world storytelling is as essential a human activity as eating, fighting, and lovemaking.

Hemingway's writing appeals to all the senses as he creates some vivid scenes. He demonstrates his mastery of the art of fiction; he continually makes interesting choices and creates some really striking and beautiful passages.

For Whom The Bell Tolls is an exceptionally haunting work of literature; a rich and rewarding text that is an essential volume in the canon of war fiction. For intriguing companion texts that also deal with the Spanish Civil War,  Spain's Cause Was Mine: A Memoir Of An American Medic In The Spanish Civil War, by Hank Rubin, and The Confessions Of Senora Francesca Navarro And Other Stories, by Natalie L. M. Petesch could be recommended.

Peter Jackson to make Hobbit movie after settling Ring dispute

Peter Jackson, the creator of the record-breaking Lord Of The Rings movie trilogy, is to executive produce two Hobbit movies after settling a $100 million lawsuit with film studio New Line, the studio announced. The prequels will be based on the book of the same name by J.R. Tolkien and will revolve around Bilbo Baggins before he embarks on the Lord Of The Rings quest.

The films will be shot simultaneously in 2009 and will be released in 2010 and 2011. "I'm very pleased that we've been able to put our differences behind us, so that we may begin a new chapter with our old friends at New Line," Jackson said in a statement.

"We are delighted to continue our journey through Middle Earth." It's unclear whether Jackson will direct either of the two movies, with the New Line statement saying he and Fran Walsh, his wife and co-producer on the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, will act as executive producer and "manage the production" of Hobbit.

The couple sued New Line in 2005, claiming the studio cooked the books and seriously short-changed the couple for a franchise that earned $3 billion at the worldwide box office and captured 17 Academy Awards, including an 11- category sweep for 2003's Return Of The King, the last in the series and the Oscar winner for best picture.

"Peter Jackson has proven himself as the filmmaker who can bring the extraordinary imagination of Tolkien to life and we full heartedly agree with the fans worldwide who know he should be making The Hobbit," said Harry Sloan, chairman of MGM, which owns the distribution rights to the film.

Sri Lanka's first ever Audio Book

J.B. Muller's The Burghers, is now on CD.˜ The introduction is by Errol Alphonso:

"J.B. Muller comes from the best background a writer can hope to have. He has variously been a gas station supervisor, floral art dabbler, poultry keeper, nightclub maitre d,' journalist and broadcaster. He has been rather more than casually visible on television. He has also, on appropriate occasion, boxed the ears of assorted hoodlums with commendable enthusiasm, because Burghers, as a habit, hate bullying and humbug.

"They are a remarkable people, coming from a rich gene pool into which have gone the bloodlines of almost every country in Europe, with Arabs and Jews thrown in for good measure.

"The Burghers have given Sri Lanka some of its finest intellectuals, poets, painters, writers, musicians, engineers, judges, doctors, police officers, and armed services personnel, public administrators and legislators, apart from naturally gifted artisans and technicians. They remain a proud people with a great zest for life and an abiding love for their country.

"J.B. Muller has worked long and hard researching a vast corpus of background material for this book, and the result has done the Burghers and Sri Lanka proud."

The audio book (in a three CD pack) will be launched on January 4, 2008 at 5:30 p.m at the Auditorium of the Sri Lanka National Library, 7, Independence Avenue, Colombo 7.

Book argues that Bell stole phone idea

A new book claims to have definitive evidence of a long-suspected technological crime - that Alexander Graham Bell stole ideas for the telephone from a rival, Elisha Gray.

In The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret, journalist Seth Shulman argues that Bell - aided by aggressive lawyers and a corrupt patent examiner - got an improper peek at patent documents Gray had filed, and that Bell was erroneously credited with filing first.

Shulman believes the smoking gun is Bell's lab notebook, which was restricted by Bell's family until 1976, then digitised and made widely available in 1999.

The notebook details the false starts Bell encountered as he and assistant Thomas Watson tried transmitting sound electromagnetically over a wire. Then, after a 12-day gap in 1876 - when Bell went to Washington to sort out patent questions about his work - he suddenly began trying another kind of voice transmitter. That method was the one that proved successful.

As Bell described that new approach, he sketched a diagram of a person speaking into a device. Gray's patent documents, which describe a similar technique, also feature a very similar diagram.

Shulman's book, due out January 7, recounts other elements that have piqued researchers' suspicions. For instance, Bell's transmitter design appears hastily written in the margin of his patent; Bell was nervous about demonstrating his device with Gray present; Bell resisted testifying in an 1878 lawsuit probing this question; and Bell, as if ashamed, quickly distanced himself from the telephone monopoly bearing his name.

Perhaps the most instructive lesson comes when Shulman explores why historical memory has favored Bell and not Gray - nor German inventor Philipp Reis, who beat them both with 1860s telephones that employed a different principle.

One reason is simply that Bell, not Gray, actually demonstrated a phone that transmitted speech. Gray was focused instead on his era's pressing communications challenge: how to send multiple messages simultaneously over the same telegraph wire. As Gray huffed to his attorney, "I should like to see Bell do that with his apparatus."

A rare collection that gives voice to the voiceless

This collection contains 19 stories of rare power from the heart of war-ravaged Sri Lanka. In these stories Jean Arasanayagam brings us voices that are not normally heard: those of anonymous men and women searching for order and reason in the midst of a ruthless civil war: a young Sinhala man turns his back on an aimless upper-class existence and joins a group of Tamil refugees smuggling themselves into Germany; a woman goes out alone to a scene of carnage to try to find her daughter's lover among the dead; a maid returns from the rich desert city of Doha to the green half-jungle of her village in northern Sri Lanka and rediscovers hapiness despite the uncertain future.

Arts Round-up

Rave reviews for Yahaluwo

Yahaluwo (Friends) - a movie based on behaviors and psychology have received rave reviews from audiences.

The movie has Sujeewa Senasinghe and popular South Indian Actress Pooja Umashankar in important roles, while Himasal Thathsara Liyanage plays the lead role. This is the first time Pooja has acted a mature role of a mother in a Sinhala movie and had also dubbed for the movie.

The film caters to audience belonging to all age groups especially to the children.

The movie has Pooja playing the role of a Tamil mother while Senasinghe plays the father of Rajiv (Himasal Liyanage).

The movie was produced by Dr. Namal Senasinghe and directed by Sumithra Peiris.

Special postal cover on

Indian Fine Arts Society A special postal cover in commemoration of the platinum jubilee celebrations of the Indian Fine Arts Society was released on Tuesday by K. Ramachandirann, Postmaster-General, Chennai City Region. It was received by society president V. Sethuram. Ramachandirann said the release of postal cover would convey to the people the good work done by the society. He said the society was doing yeoman service for promoting carnatic music and was bringing out skill and talent of young artistes not only in Tamil Nadu but also from other corners of the country. It was heartening to note that the society was extending financial assistance to the talented poor artistes to come up in life. Society secretary N. Srinivasan explained the activities of the society since its inception.

Chinese unveil mammoth arts centre

Compared variously to a floating pearl and a duck egg, the titanium-and-glass half-dome of the National Centre for the Performing Arts formally opened its underwater entryway to Chinese officials and dignitaries over the weekend.

The $400 million complex, a concert hall, opera house and theatre under one space age span, is designed to be the center of Chinese culture, just as Tiananmen Square next door was designated this country's political centre.

The complex's lush, dazzling interior, sophisticated acoustics and mechanical wizardry rival any hall in Europe or the United States, its promoters say. Chen Ping, the centre's director, proclaimed it "a concrete example of China's rising soft power and comprehensive national strength" during the opening ceremony on Saturday night.

Yet the centre, designed by the French architect Paul Andreu, has attracted at least as much attention for its cost overruns, safety concerns and provocative aesthetics.

And the hall's artistic directors, appointed after prolonged bureaucratic squabbling, had to scramble to line up a credible schedule of performances for the premier season, which runs from late December until April, organisers said.

Movie Review:

I Am Legend recieves mixed reviews

Review in a Hurry:˙ Will Smith grapples with existential angst and cannibalistic vampire-zombies (in that order) as, apparently, the last man on Earth after a bioengineered plague. Maybe not the most uplifting choice for a holiday flick, but Smith's riveting performance and tight action scenes make this a smart, gripping view of the end of the world.

The Bigger Picture:˙ Smith plays Lt. Col. Robert Neville, a military medical researcher living in the wasteland that used to be Manhattan. He fills his days doing the Last Man on Earth workout and hunting for a cure with his faithful dog. At night, he locks down his brownstone and hides from what the rest of the world has become.

This version of Richard Matheson's sci-fi classic owes more than a little to Charlton Heston's campy classic The Omega Man (the screenwriters of that 1971 movie get a credit), with mannequins filling in for real people as Neville goes through his daily routine.

But for the most part,˙Neville is left to interact with an empty planet as a blank canvas.˙And Smith's performance˙knocks it out of the park. His considerable charisma turns inside out as he starts to fall into despair, and it helps that the dogs playing his canine costar are good enough for a best supporting actor nod.

Neville refuses to give up on the world, even as he gives up on himself. He captures members of the Infected - although they terrify him - to test his various cures. (Another mark of Smith's ability: He seems genuinely scared, even with his action-hero cool.)

The big problem is Neville's descent makes the chance of hope at the end seem false. There's probably a whole nerdy grad thesis in all the recent apocalypses out there, starting with 28 Days Later through Cormac McCarthy's The Road. But the bottom line is, despite the sci-fi setting, the implications are a little too real to be wrapped up so neatly.

Still, Will Smith gets to kick some vampire-zombie ass, and really, who doesn't want to see that?

The 180 - a Second Opinion:˙ We're okay with 94 percent of humanity getting wiped out. We can stomach what hits Neville's family. But things happen to dogs in this movie that are seriously not cool. Seriously.

Courtesy - E! Reviews.


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