Saturday, December 02, 2017

Blue Mountains: “There is just one thing – the truth”: an interview with Roberto Saviano and David Hare

“I have seen the best of you, and the worst of you, and I choose both.”
Sarah Kay       

The trickle (and soon to be flood) of newspaper-filler books-of-the-year pieces has begun, and The Spectator at least tries to make things a bit more interesting by asking some of their regular reviewers to name: 'the best and most overrated books of 2017', in Books of the year

       Alas, few take them up on it, with barely any suggesting what might be overrated (though Jenny Colgan at least finds Gabriel Tallent's My Absolute Darling; "too mulched down to a paste for my liking")

Viewing other people as objectsenables our very worst conduct — that notion has long been a reassuring one. The truth may be harder to accept 

Prehistoric women had stronger arms than today’s elite rowing crewsPhysOrg (Chuck L). This is not as surprising as the authors make out. Rowing is an endurance sport. For strength, the maximum exertion period for strength-related activities is ~2 minutes. That is based on exercise physiology (the maximum amount of time you can rely on the lactic acid system). That is why sprinters can run flat out and middle distance runners can’t. So very forceful exertions with rests is better for strength building than repetitive use of the same muscles over longer periods of time.
Bitcoin is a global supernova MacroBusiness. “BTC is shaping as the stupidest thing that I have ever seen in global markets.”

How Reuters Is Using Artificial Intelligence To Find And Write News

"Once a conversation or rumor is potentially identified as news, an important consideration is its veracity. To determine this, Tracer looks for the source by identifying the earliest tweet in the conversation that mentions the topic and any sites it points to. It then consults a database listing known producers of fake news, such as the National Report, or satirical news sites such as The Onion. Finally, the system writes a headline and summary and distributes the news throughout the Reuters organization." … [Read More]

The Paris Review is launching a literary podcast that promises to be an “audio odyssey,” using archival tapes and interviews from authors such as Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, and Dorothy Parker.

Read one of the earliest published reviews on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, from 1897. 

A look at how Muhammad Ali promised to write the greatest book of all time, his autobiography, during the years when he was still trying to figure out who he truly was.


He had lived a lot through the lives of others. Too much. Sometimes this surrogacy produced in him a certain sadness that was pasty, cosmic, rough-hewn. No one cares about me. If I have a problem, I’ll have to solve it by myself. I’m like an abandoned soul in a wasteland. Life had passed him by, just beyond his reach. Like a river, he had captured the sounds, the commotion, had recognized the dangers, but he had remained on the shore. When he had thrown himself into the  stream, inexpert as he was, it was to follow others. Simply a matter of contagion, as if he had caught typhoid fever. The  current had dragged him to France, where he had been discarded like a dead branch. He had married young so he could  work calmly, feel himself strong through his child, so he wouldn’t lose himself completely. 

Congratulations to forthcoming WLT contributors Seth Michelson and Derick Mattern who were announced this week as recipients of 2018 NEA Literature Translation Fellowships. Michelson and Mattern are among 22 translators who will receive grants in 2018.
Thanksgiving themed list of poems is up on, featuring Li-Young Lee, who’s interview with Jennifer Wong will be featured in the forthcoming January issue for World Literature Today.
Martha Collins teaches us what we can learn from multiple translations of the same poem. Her book Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries was reviewed in the November issue of World Literature Today.
NPR interviewed Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Maria Tatar, the editors of The Annotated African American Folk Tales anthology, which features African American folktales passed down all the way from the slavery era.
The winners of the National Book Awards for fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have been announced.
Yoko Tawada, a former Neustadt juror (2008), has won the inaugural Warwick Prize for Women in Translation. Her memoir, Memoirs of a Polar Bear, was translated from German by Susan Bernofsky, who will be in Norman for the Puterbaugh Festival in March 2018.

Was Agatha Christie the original Gone Girl? Read the account of her eleven-day disappearance in 1926 to get back at her unfaithful husband.
Amazon has continued its spending spree on literary adaptation rights with a landmark deal of $250 million for the rights to adapt The Lord of the Rings into a television series.
Nine accomplished writers, such as Emma Cline and Viet Thanh Nguyen, share their rituals, traditions, and recipes for Thanksgiving.


He passed the door to his building, without seeing her. At the corner they loaded him onto a truck. With a tremendous din, everything disappeared forever, down the street, enveloped by silence and the night.
And that’s the end. The end of everything?

There is just one thing – the truth”: an interview with Roberto Saviano and David Hare

Roberto SavianoRoberto Saviano; credit: George Torode
Ten years ago, at the age of twenty-six, the Italian writer Roberto Saviano published Gomorrah, an anatomy of the Neapolitan mafia. It was inspired by his own disturbing experiences of violence in his home city, and grew out of an extended period of undercover investigation.
In an article published in the Financial Times last year, Misha Glenny described what life has been like for Saviano since then:
“He is shadowed wherever he goes by between five and seven armed members of the Carabinieri, the elite police squadron that has been responsible for his security since 2006 . . . . To begin with, he had to sleep in a different apartment every night; his family have either been forced into witness protection or compelled to renounce him; and even abroad he needs armed protection around the clock. To this day, he cannot possibly form normal relationships as anyone close to him is transformed automatically into a proxy target for the Camorra. Unlike Salman Rushdie’s fatwa, which was negotiated away by the Iranian and British governments, the Camorra death sentence is for life.”

It was slightly surprising to me that Saviano was in a position to give his own account of things at an event hosted by English PEN in London on Thursday. Chaired by Gaby Wood and also featuring David Hare, the discussion was held in a conference room at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster and attended by a couple of hundred people (perhaps), a fair number of them Italian. Saviano spoke (and listened) through the supremely skilful interpreter Martin Esposito; and confessed early on to certain naivety in writingGomorrah – “I didn’t decide to walk bravely into the flames . . . . I was young” – while also pinpointing why the book had the effect it did. “What scared the power I wrote about was not so much [the book as] the readers, the army of readers . . . . Even those who disagreed about the book had spoken about it."
David Hare, Roberto Saviano and Martin EspositoDavid Hare, Roberto Saviano and Martin Esposito; credit: George Torode
Saviano and Hare were in 2011 jointly awarded the PEN Pinter Prize, which rewards writers who display, in Pinter’s own phrase,  “unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination . . .  to define the real truth of our lives and our societies”. One of Wood’s lines of questioning (one also pursued at a recent London Library event, incidentally) was about whether a writer should be motivated in their work by a sense of social responsibility. Hare was with Cyril Connolly on this – “If Cézanne wants to paint apples, then he’s free to paint apples” –  but he also observed that, in his own case, his “temperament has coincided with curiosity about the world artistically”. (As Wood reminded us, Hare’s plays have examined the judicial system, the banking system and MI5.)
Saviano was still a child when he was overcome by the desire to write. His style was baroque – “as far away as possible from reality” – but when a priest was murdered by the Camorra, he found that he “could not not look for moral reasons”. He described to us his thought process at the time: “I’ve got to put my words into the factory, I’ve got to hone them, I’ve got to work with them. I’ve got to get them working in order to make a difference”. But the feeling of responsibility can also be debilitating, he suggested – it can be very similar to guilt, and has in the past “engendered behaviours that would not really belong to me except that I’m fearful of harming others”. He was reminded of the television version of Gomorrah, for which Saviano removed “everything that’s good in any character”, his reasoning being “I want evil to be inescapable for [the audience]. I want them to say, ‘I’m not like this, and if I’m not like this, why?’” The reaction to the series was unexpected, it seems: “the world is telling me that in this way I’m inspiring evil, I’m making it fascinating”. There is no duty, he concluded. “There is just one thing – the truth – and this is what we need to pursue.”
Saviano’s book ZeroZeroZero, published last year, describes London as the money-laundering capital of the world. When Saviano is in the UK or the US, he told us, he senses that people think him unduly obsessed with ideas about corruption. “I understand that point of view . . . . It’s so hard to imagine London . . . as such a corrupt entity. By corruption I don’t mean . . .  the police, the politicians, the bureaucracy; I mean financial corruption”. He referred to a rank order in which Switzerland is in position one in terms of corruption and lack of transparency, and the UK is at fifteen. That might not seem too bad, he said, “except that there’s an asterisk” – “it only applies to the island of Great Britain, not to any offshore British territories which would immediately project Great Britain to the top”. Saviano also said that, were the UK to leave the European Union, it would be “devoured by foreign capital”.
Hare, meanwhile, spoke of the EU referendum as something that “in theory is meant to be about the country at large, but . . . is about a power struggle among the Conservative Party”; and told us that when he wrote about the financial crisis, he had “never met a group of people so totally self-interested as the bankers”: “they knew nothing about anything except themselves”. Our sense of being “excluded from everything that is significant” makes us feel helpless, he said – and one of the things he finds interesting when writing about his own times is the strength of audience response to “oppositional” material.  His new short play Ayn Rand Takes a Stand is currently playing in the West End (as part of A View From Islington North directed by Max Stafford-Clark); and the reaction to it, he said, is “disproportionate to its quality”.
Saviano said that we’ve all got homework to do: "to get to know things”, to debate. He suggested that we follow the activities ofTransparency, and read documents published by the Secret Intelligence Services. As Hare pointed out, we can also do something much simpler. “You come to look in your own life . . . and the lives of those near you for individual acts of goodness as being the way in which it is possible for you to express yourself”. Saviano had said something along these lines himself: “I believe in goodness, the good gesture – eye to eye, hand to hand; and I hope my readers will believe in this too”.