Category Archives: Literature

Escape from the Consumer Society: A Conversation with Mike Blue

Mike Blue is a talented writer even if you don’t agree with his philosophy: I don’t and that made for a great conversation between us – reported here on Impakter:

 

Our industrial society, ever since it began, has spawned fierce critics. Two of the best known lived in America: the transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau and the economist Thorstein Veblen. Thoreau gave us the definitive masterpiece of life in the woods with Walden in 1854. Later, in 1899, Veblen became famous with his Theory of the Leisure Class, a savage critique of “conspicuous consumption” depicting businessmen as modern-day “lords of the manor”. Now, following in their footsteps, we have Michael Blue, a young Australian author who has just published his own addition to the Thoreau and Veblen legacy: The Anatomy of Escape .

 

Anatomy of Escape ,book cover. It features the bus named Rosie in which the author lived in Sumatra while writing his book.

This is Michael Blue’s second book, the first was The Consumption Cleanse published two years ago, with  a long sub-title that said it all: “Giving up 13 consumption habits in 13 weeks for a better life and a healthier planet”.

The Anatomy of Escape, by contrast, is more ambitious. It is a crossover, partly memoir describing the high points of his own escape from the consumer society and partly guidebook telling his readers how to do it. In short, how to turn this kind of escape into a sustainable lifestyle.

Over the past year, Michael Blue has shared with Impakter several early drafts while writing his “escape” book. Choice pieces, like the explanation of why dogs always look happy (and cats don’t), the three-legged stool metaphor, or  what we can learn from Easter Island.

read the book and enjoyed it as much as I had enjoyed his articles for Impakter. But I wanted to know more. His desire to leave behind the consumer society in pursuit of happiness had always struck me as something out of the ordinary. It takes courage to abandon a career and choose to drift across the world.

When he wrote his articles for Impakter he was living in Indonesia, in an old bus converted into a house. Why do it? How to do it? His book provides answers, of course, but I still had more questions.

I got in touch with Mike and discovered that he had abandoned his bus.

He was now traveling across Colombia on a motorcycle, stopping now and then to write, nestling his computer in improbable places, including eagle nests with breathtaking views of the mountains. Eventually, we managed to have a long conversation that clarified many of my questions and doubts, here are the highlights.

Mike, I just finished your Anatomy of Escape and thoroughly enjoyed it. You have an original way to couch your ideas (e.g. the 3-legged stool! Dogs vs. cats!). It worked even in my case and that’s pretty amazing if you consider that I don’t really share your philosophy, at least not in full. While I share your distaste for the consumer society, I could never do what you’ve done, give up everything, leave behind home and family and live on the road. In short, drop out.

It might at first seem like that’s what I’ve done, drop out, but it wasn’t quite like that. I can see this clearly now in retrospect. Rather than dropping out, I feel like I have climbed out, out of the consumerism trap. And then I dropped in, if anything, to a life that I feel brings me so much more than it once did.

But climbing out of the “trap” as you call it, means giving up the lifestyle of the middle class, that I imagine you were born into. You are an accountant by profession, surely you had to give up a lot?

Read the rest on Impakter, click here.

Comments Off on Escape from the Consumer Society: A Conversation with Mike Blue

Filed under Book review, Literature, Literature, Sociology

#MeToo: Taking it to the Next Level

Also published on Impakter.

Here’s the opening:

Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, published by Modern History Press, 268 pages. Out on: 10 April 2018

This is a remarkable novel, a book for our #MeToo age.

To some it may look like another women’s fiction title, but it’s not. It goes beyond the recurrent themes of the genre – marriage, friends and the search for happiness, showcasing a strong woman who overcomes multiple obstacles. It brings home the universality of #MeToo, not an issue exclusive to America: It has become a number one issue around the world, India included. And it is a great read, the work of an exceptionally talented storyteller, with finely observed characters, unexpected twists in the plot and a deeply satisfying ending. This is a not-to-be-missed novel, including for those who do not normally read in the genre.

 Sweta Vikram iPiccy-collage

In my view, this book does something more: It adds a much needed, broader dimension to the #MeToo issue, shifting the focus squarely on sexual abuse. It’s not just a matter of recalling episodes of unpleasant groping and being threatened or blackmailed by an alpha male that can kill your career, your reputation or any hope you have for happiness. It is that too, of course, but it goes beyond. Sexual abuse is the one aspect of sexual violence that is unequivocally indefensible and morally deeply wrong, with no ifs and no buts.

And it does this in three ways.

One, the major event around which the story unfolds: A world conference on sexual violence against women – to be held in New Orleans, hence one of the reasons for the book’s title. There are others, and I shall come to them shortly. Ahana is charged with the organization of this conference, a task that is a big challenge and that pushes her to her limits. The conference logo she’s picked, No Excuse, is striking. In two words, it tells us we are facing the next level after #MeToo.

Two, the major themes in the novel: sexual violence against women and stalking/bullying on social media (in this case, in an online therapy group). These are deeply serious issues you find every day in the news headlines, yet they are lightly woven in the plot. And the author manages the feat of adding a new urgency to them – this is done through two intriguing characters, two diametrically different men, who erupt in Ahana’s life as she tries to organize the conference. And here we get to the other reason for the book’s title: Both men are from Louisiana, including the catfisher. And right until the middle of the novel, we can’t tell which of them is actually a ‘good catch’ for Ahana and who is the one ‘catching’ her in his net. One of them is not what he seems – hence the suspense.

Three, the viewpoint: The story is told from Ahana’s standpoint and Ahana is special. Highly educated, she comes from a wealthy upper-class Delhi family. She lives in two worlds, the traditional Indian one with all its customs, including the food and the gossiping “aunties”, and the Western one that she has been educated in. Tall and beautiful, an athletic yoga-practitioner, Ahana is recently divorced from Dev, a good-looking man but a sexually abusive husband.

Ahana is someone you grow to increasingly like and care about, and you find yourself wanting to tell her to stop, to be more careful about sharing personal stuff online. People throw up smoke screens, will Ahana see through them? Believe me, it’s a page turner.

Reading the book, I became curious about Sweta Srivastava Vikram, an author capable of creating such stunningly realistic characters, both Indian and American. If you peek at her bio, you discover she is of Indian origin, but she lives in America and has known entrepreneurial success in her own life just like Ahana. She has already had eleven books published, establishing her as a major poet – with only one of them (a novel) published in India, and she has won several awards.

Louisiana Catch is the first novel you publish in the United States. And you now live in New York with your husband. What inspired you to write this book? Any connection with your move to the United States?

Sweta Srivastava Vikram: Louisiana Catch is my 12th book but debut U.S. novel. My poetry books have been published in the U.S. before, but the novel is exciting on a whole different scale.

Louisiana Catch didn’t happen directly as a result of my move to the Big Apple. I moved to NYC about 20 years ago…

READ THE REST ON IMPAKTER, CLICK HERE.

________________________________________

BIO: Sweta Srivastava Vikram, a graduate of Columbia University, was featured by Asian Fusion as “one of the most influential Asians of our time”. She is a best-selling author of 12 books and a five-times Pushcart Prize nominee. She is also a mindfulness writing coach, social issues advocate, and a certified yoga & Ayurveda counselor who helps people lead creative, productive, and healthier lives. Louisiana Catch is her debut U.S. novel and featured on U.K.’s list of “Books to Read in 2018.” Born in India, Sweta lives in New York City with her husband and in her spare time, teaches yoga to female survivors of rape and domestic violence.

Website          Twitter            Instagram          Facebook          LinkedIn

________________________________________

Featured Image Credit: New Orleans: French Quarter, Exchange Place – by wallyg flickr.com

2 Comments

Filed under Book review, interviews, Literature, Literature, Sociology

If We Were Gods, Would We Be Happy?

My latest article published on Impakter:

If We Were Gods by Adam Karni Cohen, published by The Endeavour Press, July 2017 Book Review and Interview 

When I started reading If We Were Gods, I was wondering how Adam Karni Cohen, the author of this remarkable and bizarre love story-cum-family saga, could ever pull off the heavy referencing to the ancient world of Greek and Roman mythology. I was ready to be bored and expecting to classify this debut novel as yet another pretentious failure from an aspiring writer.

I was wrong, of course. This is the work of a master story-teller. Don’t be put off by the Roman gods roaming around in this book, they are not a bore or a waste of time. There’s nothing academic or pretentious about them. The gods you encounter here don’t slow down the storytelling, what they do is add a new dimension to it, refreshing and amplifying a common tale in our times. A love story between two university students from different countries and different cultures, in this case, Italy and the UK. We have Claudio Collina, son of a Verona industrialist, who came to study engineering in the UK and Jennifer who is an English med student. Claudio is a pivotal character, loaded with an intellectual baggage shaped by ancient Rome, he is the one living the ancient myths.  He befriends Chris, another British med student, and soon this becomes a “classic” love triangle.

Adam Karni Cohen took literally the classic element in this love triangle and elevated it to the main theme of his novel – thus turning it into something entirely new.

You don’t need to know anything about the triangle of love between Vulcan (the god of fire), Venus (his wife) and Mars (her lover) to enjoy the book. And as you read on, you discover that the author has woven more than a love story, this is the saga of two families, one in England, the other in Italy, and it spans decades and generations, as the story turns on Jennifer’s children, Anna, eighteen and her brother Sam, fourteen.

Sam is a particularly endearing character who, to alleviate the boredom of a summer vacation, plays at being a “detective”. He delves deep into his mother’s personal papers and there are times you feel like telling him to stop. But his relentless curiosity moves the plot forward and you come to enjoy the way the author delicately draws this teenage boy, with all his flaws, misguided ambitions and yearning to be loved.

This is an ambitious novel, finely structured and with multiple points of views. Remarkably, one key character central to the plot is one we never meet but only hear about: Claudio’s father, Federico Collina, who sounds like a ruthless startup entrepreneur (not an entirely lovable character but very real).  He has an outsize effect on his children, Claudio and Melissa, shaping their destinies.

If this all sounds complicated, it isn’t. The author pulls it off brilliantly, aided by a real talent for both story-telling and mastery of language. The reader is drawn in, the pace is relentless, this is a page-turner and a deep plunge into the human condition.

After reading it, I wanted to talk to the author and he kindly agreed to answer my questions.

Question: Literary agent Donald Maass wrote in his famous guidebook “the Breakout Novel” that a “truly BIG book is a perfect blend of inspired premise, larger-than-life characters, high-stakes story, deeply-felt themes, vivid setting and much more”. Your book checks all the boxes. Can you tell me how you came to your “inspired premise” and “larger-than-life characters” – in other words, why the mythology, why Claudio?

To read his answers on Impakter, click here.

Comments Off on If We Were Gods, Would We Be Happy?

Filed under Book review, interviews, Literature, Uncategorized