Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

Sophie's Choice Novel Cover

Set in New York City in the summer of 1947 – just two years after the end of the Second World War – Sophie’s Choice tells the story of Stingo (an aspiring writer from the South who is renting a room in Brooklyn and is trying to pen his first literary masterpiece) and his friendship with a beautiful young woman who lives in the same building: Sophie. A Polish survivor of Auschwitz, Sophie has recently migrated to the US from a refugee centre in Sweden and as the story unfolds, snippet by snippet, we learn of the trauma she has suffered and the terrible secrets she keeps buried deep inside.

Sophie’s Choice is undoubtedly a masterpiece of modern American literature. The way the author, William Styron, has woven together the various strands of the story is impressive. Slowly, with each passing chapter, as if peeling back the layers of an onion, we learn more and more about the enigma that is Sophie and the harrowing ordeals she underwent in war-ravaged Poland.  Styron has so seamlessly joined fact with what I presume to be fiction that the story feels one hundred per cent authentic.

There is nothing phony about Sophie’s Choice. The way he recounts Stingo’s ‘coming of age’ is also downright hilarious in its believability. NOTE: Sophie’s Choice is not for the prudish!!! I read (on that trusty repository of wisdom that is Wikipedia) that in 2002 the novel was removed from a California school library for a period of time following complaints from parents. And I can see why parents would object: the novel is extremely graphic and I have to admit I was myself at times shocked! That they should object to their little darlings reading about Stingo’s throbbing member and his apprenticeship in the ways of fellatio and the sixty-nine position is understandable. However, it is the book’s unapologetic authenticity, its unashamedly realistic account of the pain of growing up, that earns it a place on the literary shelf.

I also learned, again via Wikipedia (God bless the Internet!), that the novel was adapted into an Academy Award-winning movie starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline in 1982 and coined the phrase ‘to make a Sophie’s choice’: that is, to choose between two equally awful options. Actually, once I learned the meaning of this idiom I was able to predict the choice that Sophie would eventually have to make. I would definitely recommend Sophie’s Choice but not without the following caveat: not for the faint-hearted.

SHANTARAM by Gregory David Roberts

Shantaram
Last year, whilst visiting friends in Edinburgh, I was loaned a copy of Gregory David Roberts’ auto-biographical novel SHANTARAM: a well-loved, dog-eared, sunscreen-stained copy, purchased in India and still adorned with its original 495-rupee price tag. I brought the novel home to New Zealand, where it sat on the bookshelf for the next ten months. About six weeks ago, finally feeling ready to take on a novel of such epic proportions (Shantaram is just over 900 pages long), I took the book down from the shelf, dusted it off and dove in.

A friend from work who spent several years living in India told me that Shantaram is the most authentic account of India written by a Westerner. Reading the novel, it is clear that Roberts has an intimate knowledge of the Indian subcontinent, its diverse cultures and plethora of languages. Roberts’ descriptions of Bombay (also known as Mumbai) and the way he captures the unique sounds of Indian English are impressive and at times very amusing.

The novel is based on a true story (although Roberts has been accused by some of employing artistic licence) and recounts his escape from prison in Melbourne in 1980 and his new life in and around the slums of Bombay. To say Roberts has led an eventful life would be an understatement!

*SPOILER ALERT*

During the five or so years covered in the novel Roberts works as a drug pusher, a self-taught slum doctor, a counterfeit passport smuggler, a mafia heavyweight, a Bollywood extra and a Mujahedin fighter in the Afghan war with Russia. He also falls in love, spends time in one of India’s worst prisons and learns to speak several Indian languages fluently.

If you are a person who enjoys very descriptive, poetic language then Shantaram is definitely the book for you! However, if, like my lovely mother, you prefer to skip entire pages of prose, then I wouldn’t recommend this novel. I certainly like descriptive writing and really enjoyed reading Shantaram; however, I do think Roberts does at times go slightly over the top – the novel could easily be several hundred pages shorter without compromising any of the plot.

I was slightly disappointed that the book did not reveal how Roberts was eventually captured and extradited back to Australia. However, I have since found out that Shantaram is actually part of a four-book series and that Roberts intends to publish a prequel and two sequels. So I guess, I may just find out after all!

Verdict: RECOMMEND

I’m now reading SOPHIE’S CHOICE by WILLIAM STYRON.

 

Free Fall: a non-expert’s expert opinion.

Free Fall movie

Before I begin, let me make it quite clear that I know absolutely diddly squat about the business of making films. Any reviews I post will be written purely from a layman’s point of view!

At the end of May my friend Venessa and I were fortunate enough to score free tickets to the Wellington screening of Free Fall (Freier Fall in German). All we had to do in exchange for the free tickets was hand out condoms and lollipops before the movie started. Yes, that’s right: condoms and lollipops. And no, Free Fall is not a porno.

The movie was screened at the Paramount Theatre on Courtenay Place as part of Out Takes 2014 (the Wellington gay film festival) and we were privileged to be able to attend as representatives of Love Your Condom, the NZ Aid Foundation’s safe-sex initiative.

So, about the movie…. Free Fall is basically a tragic love story.

*SPOILER ALERT*

The two hunky actors do not live happily ever after. Or at least, we don’t know if they do: we have to imagine how their lives turn out. Boo!

The main characters, Marc (played by Hanno Koffler) and Kay (Max Riemelt) meet at police college somewhere in Germany. At the beginning of the fim Marc is engaged, with his fiancee expecting their first child. When he meets Kay his life is turned upside down and the movie chronicles the beginnings of their relationship and the fall out which ensues.

What particularly appealed to me about Free Fall is that it doesn’t adhere to the usual stereotypes: there are no pink t-shirts or limp wrists in sight. And neither of the main characters is a hairdresser: they are just ‘regular’ guys who so happen to be gay. The film is also well made (at least, in my humble opinion it is) and the dialogue/acting is believable. I’ve seen a few gay movies over the years (again, not pornos!) and unfortunately they can be a bit budget and the acting more than a little hammy. Free Fall was refreshingly good. So good in fact, that I’ve since bought the DVD. If I know you and you live in Wellington, you’re more than welcome to borrow it!

I’m not going to bother giving any of the movies I watch a score from 1 to 10 or a grade from A to D. After all, what does that really mean? Instead, I will simply RECOMMEND or NOT RECOMMEND the movie.

So….the verdict for Free Fall: RECOMMEND!

D2K. Like Y2K, but smaller.

Today is my 2000th day Down Under! That equates to 5 years, 5 months and 23 days.

On 15 January 2009 I waved goodbye to my Mum, my Nan and my Grandad at Heathrow Airport, ready to begin a new life in the Southern Hemisphere. Within a matter of hours I had switched my summer birthday for a winter one, my paper pounds for plastic dollars, and cold Christmases by the fire for New Years spent on the beach.

Now, two thousands sleeps on, I can hardly believe I ever lived anywhere else but Wellington! When I boarded that Malaysian Airlines flight to Perth, my worldly possessions (well, the ones I brought with me) fit into a backpack; now I’d need to hire a removal truck!

So, exactly how has my life changed since moving to New Zealand?

– I’ve come out to my family and friends. (Somehow, all these years on, I still find the words ‘I’m gay’ confronting. I wonder if it will ever get any easier?)
– I’ve bought a house (well, part of a house. The bank currently owns a sizeable chunk!)
– I’ve acquired two killer cats. Only the other day I was woken at 3am to the sound of bones crunching. Suffice it to say, the mouse didn’t survive.
– I’ve learned some Te Reo Maori, some NZ sign language and a smidgen of Mandarin Chinese. If you want to know how to say your mother has a horse, I’m your man!
– I’ve finally been to Asia and have discovered that if I had to choose one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it’d be Chinese. #bringonthedumplings

Me and my Nan at Heathrow Airport (15 Jan 2009)

Those of you who know me will know that I love a good plan! So, for those of you who are interested, I hereby set myself the following goals for the next 1,000 days:

When the clock strikes 3,000 I aim to have published my first book, to have finished renovating the house, and to have finally visited one of the Pacific islands. And I hope to have become a NZ citizen!

My first blog post…

Well, here goes nothing!

*LONG PAUSE*

Hmm, what to write?

*SCRATCHES HEAD*

In all honesty, I haven’t the foggiest what I’m going to blog about!

All I know is that according to the how-to-become-a-world-famous-author-in-ten-minutes book I bought off of Amazon recently, I am supposed to be building an online presence and establishing a fan base in anticipation of my first novel.

So, lovely fans, keep watching as I muddle along and perhaps, somewhere along the way, I may write something vaguely amusing. And if there is anything you’re burning with curiosity to know, then drop me a line!

Oh, and I suppose I’d better give an update on my book…

…so far I have written 40,000 words. I hope to have the first draft complete by the end of July, ready to send off for an appraisal by the experts in the Hutt.

And whilst you’re waiting for my masterpiece to materialise, I may entertain you with a few movie, book and restaurant reviews.

Ka kite ano!