Book Review: Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Nervous Conditions (1989) by Tsitsi Dangarembga represents Zimbabwe for Around the World for a Good Book.  This book is the coming of age story of a girl named Tambu living in the 1960’s & 70’s under British Colonial rule in Rhodesia.  After her brother dies, Tambu is able to go away to a mission school and live with her wealthy, cosmopolitain uncle and his family.  This means sharing a room with her cousin Nyasha.

The girls form a friendship and share an outsider status.  Nyasha spent many years living in England with her parents and thus lost touch with the African ways.  Tambu is drawn to the lifestyle of her cousin’s family and the mission and increasingly disgusted with her own family’s backward ways.The novel contains a lot of the tropes of the coming-of-age story: rebellion, burgeoning sexuality, shame in one’s family, and seeking one’s own identity.  For much of the book it appears that Tambu is more of a spectator to Nyasha’s outlandish ways.  Later in the novel the narrative shifts to Tambu’s choices and family commitments.

There is also a layer of the novel that subtly shows the effects of colonialism with the castes in society where the more African people live near poverty and the more English live life more abundantly.  The most chillng passages are when Tambu describes the white people at the mission as near-deities, a status she seems to accept without question.Another strong element of the novel is the role of women in society.  In addition to Nyasha and Tambu there is Tambu’s highly-educated yet underemployed aunt, her mother, and other family members each of whom are expected to live according to certain rules set for women.

I didn’t find this to be the best-written or most-engaging novel, but it does subtly cover many issues without resorting to didactic means.

Nervous conditions : a novel / Tsitsi Dangarembga ; foreword by Kwame Anthony Appiah.
Publisher: Emeryville, Calif. : Seal Press, c2004.
ISBN: 1580051340 (pbk.)
Description: viii, 204 p. ; 21 cm.

Book Review: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is classic mystery novel which read online via DailyLit from 1/1/08 – 12/17/08.  This is the first time I’ve tried DailyLit which sends an installment of the novel to an email or rss feed each day in increments specified by the user.  The main effect for me is that I totally lost track of what the novel was about.   The general gist is that a woman named Laura Fairlie has been wronged by an evil aristocrat Sir Percival out of her inheritance.  Her possibly half-sister Anne Catherick is also wrongly imprisoned in an insanse assylum.

The novel is told through the letters and diaries of several characters, friends and family, who attempt to help Laura regain her fortune and solve the mystery of Sir Percival.  That’s about all I can tell you.  It wasn’t very engaging, especially over a twelve month period.

The Woman in White
by Wilkie Collins

Book Review: Rough Crossings by Simon Schama

Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (2006) by Simon Schama (author of the excellent Dead Certainties) tells the story of people who found liberty at the time of American Revolution, but not from the Americans.  Enslaved blacks served in British regiments trading their loyalty to the king for promises of freedom (which makes this book an excellent companion to the Octavian Nothing novels).  After the war, freed blacks attempt to establish their own colonies first in Nova Scotia and then in Sierra Leone.  These efforts struggle against elements of the British government and commerce as well as internal divisions.

Schama’s work introduces a number of fascinating characters including, many of whom I previously knew little or nothing about

  • Colonel Tye — African-American Loyalist guerilla leader who had many military successes against the Continentals.
  • William Wilberforce — Member of Parliament and abolitionist who headed the effort that lead to the end of the slave trade in Britain.
  • James Ramsey — minister and abolitionist who was a prominent leader in bringing an end to the slave trade.
  • Granville Sharp — one of the earliest voices in England to take up the cause of abolition and attempt to have slavery ended by legal means.
  • Olaudah Equiano — freed blackman who became a prominent writer and speaker for abolition in Britain.
  • John Clarkson — an abolotionist along with his brother Thomas.  John acted nobly as an agent for the Sierra Leone company trying to get promises made to the black settlers fulfilled.
  • Thomas Peters — escaped slave who recruited fellow Loyalist blacks from Nova Scotia to found Sierra Leone and is remembered as a founding father of that nation.

This well-written narrative really brings alive an overlooked period in history.  I enjoyed listening to Schama himself narrate the audiobook in his lively, lilting voice. This is also the first time I’ve listened to a book as a downloadable audio file from the Boston Public Library.

Rough crossings [electronic resource] : Britain, the slaves, and the American Revolution / Simon Schama.Publisher:[New York, N.Y.] : HarperAudio, 2006.
ISBN:0061171522 (sound recording : OverDrive Audio Book) 9780061137020
Notes: Downloadable audio file.
Title from: Title details screen.
Duration: 11:52:30.

Book Review: Snakepit by Moses Isegawa

Set in the 1970’s during the brutal regime of Idi Amin, Snakepit (2004) by Moses Isegawa is my Around the World for a Good Book selection for Uganda.  The novel tells the story of Bat, a young man returning to Uganda after getting an education at Cambridge University.  He figures that a government job in this lawless, emerging nation will be a great way to get rich quick.  While you can’t say that the ethically-challenged Bat is naive, he is certainly unprepared for the way things in work in Uganda and over the course of the novel ends up facing a great deal of suffering at the hands of his new enemies.

The landscape of Ugandan politics and military rule include General Bazooka, Bat’s superior who has fallen out of favor with Amin.  In between orgies of sex and drugs, Bazooka tries to regain his position through intimidation, imprisonment, torture, and murder of, well, just about anyone.  While Bazooka has it out for Bat from the beginning, his main rival is the Englishman Robert Ashes who has won Amin’s affections.  Hard to believe it but Ashes is even more brutal in his methods, making Uganda his post-colonial playground.  All through the story there are gun battles on the street as various military and para-military forces abuse the citizenry and battle with one another.

This is a really unsettling book to read.  Page after page details characters stating in vulgar terms what they wish to do to their rivals and then doing it: torture, rape, murder, you name it.  Reading each page is like having someone rub your skin with a piece of sandpaper until it is raw and oozing, and turning the page is like asking them to pour lemon juice on it.  The writing style is a bit disjointed and uneven, but I guess overall it gives a sense of the rough and wild times Uganda in the 1970’s.

Author Isegawa, Moses, 1963-
Title Snakepit / Moses Isegawa.
Publication Info. New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2004.
Edition 1st ed.

Boston By Foot Special Tour: The Flat of Beacon Hill

On Sunday, December 7th, a hearty band of around two-dozen fans of Boston history and architecture came out for a special sneak preview of an upcoming Tour of the Month of The Flat of Beacon Hill.  The Flat is part of Beacon Hill literally removed from the top of the hill and used to fill in marshy land between Charles Street and the river.  The result is a charming and overlooked nook in the city.  Check out my photo gallery online.

Snowman on the Balcony welcomes you to the Flat!
Snowman on the Balcony welcomes you to the Flat!

The tour will be offered again on June 28, 2009 (and in the 2010 season as well) but it was especially charming to take the tour as the first snowfall of the season fell and the residents of the neighborhood put up decorations.  Highlights of the tour include the homes of Samuel Elliot Morrison, Edward Filene, and Admiral Richard E. Byrd.  Architectual landmarks include the Charles Street Meetinghouse, the Sunflower Castle, and the magnificent Church of the Advent.  The neighborhood is also shaped by it’s history as the location of stables & carriage house for wealthy people up the hill (leading to Morrison’s nickname of  “the horsey district”), studios for artists & architects, and buildings moved, demolished or modified by the widening of Charles Street.

Making the neighborhood cheerful for the holiday season
Making the neighborhood cheerful for the holiday season

Keep an eye on the Boston By Foot webpage for more special winter offerings, including a special birthday edition of Son of Boston where your’s truly will be a guide.  Becoming a Boston By Foot member is a great way to get discounts and freebies on a lot of tours and special events.  Memberships also make great holiday gifts.

Who new this amazing church was hidden away in this corner of Boston?  I didnt!
Who knew this amazing church was hidden away in this corner of Boston? I didn't!

Beer Review: Sevens Dark Ale

This is a beer on tap at the Sevens Ale House in Beacon Hill.

Beer: Dark Ale
Brewer:Sevens Ale House
Source: Draft
Rating: *** (7.1 of 10)

Comments: I tried this beer at the Sevens Ale House on Sunday where it is apparently the house beer, however I don’t know who does the brewing. It’s a beer with an attractive reddish/brown color but the pint I had did not have much of a head or visible carbonation. It was pleasantly bitter with a nutty aftertaste. I don’t know much about real ale, but for some reason I think this is the type of beer that may taste better at a warmer temperature. Nevertheless this was a nice old-fashioned beer appropriate to a chummy pub.

Stop Making Cents?

A few weeks ago, one of my library rss feeds popped up a bunch of links about cents.  Specifically, groups of Americans who want to retire the “penny” and Americans who think the smallest coin has great value.   Each side in this debate has some compelling arguments.

The Citizens to Retire the Penny take:

  • the cent serves no useful function in commerce
  • it costs more to mint the coin than the value of the cent itself!
  • looking for and counting out cents wastes time in transactions

Americans for Common Cents counter:

  • cents are often collected by charities in fund raising drives
  • the cent, especially with President Lincoln’s portrait, has great cultural significance
  • losing the penny and rounding up to the nickel would raise prices
  • most Americans like them

You can read the websites for more discussion of the cent’s merits and weaknesses (including counter-arguments t0 each organizations main points).  As a fan of Abraham Lincoln and someone who enjoyed collecting coins when I was young, I lean toward the save the cent side of the debate.  Yet, I can see the inherent wastefulness of producing something that is worth less than it costs to make.  I’ve long wondered, why not just revalue our currency?  I searched the ‘net and found proposals to do just that by declaring the penny worth two cents or even redefining the base unit as five cents.  It certainly makes sense for a decimal system to have a .01 unit and the Lincoln Cent is certainly a cultural icon worth preserving.

I say, let’s not do things in half measures though.  Let’s revalue the cent so that it will  be worth what is currently valued as ten cents.  The other denominations in our currency would be revalued accordingly:

1¢ = 10¢
5¢ = 50¢
10¢ = $1.00
25¢ = $2.50
50¢ = $5.00
$1.00 = $10.00
$5.00 = $50.00
$10 = $100.00
$20, $50, & $100 would all be retired because no one would carry that ridiculous amount of money around.

The US Mint could also reintroduce the half-cent and two-cent coins to replace the role of the nickel and the quarter, and the $2 bill could return to useful circulation as the new twenty.  Readjusting the value of our currency in a big way now will make it last for many more decades against the rate of inflation.

Obviously, they’re would be a confusing and laborious process of revaluing everything from the price of goods to employee salaries to adjust to the new system.  Yet, I think even that will eventually have it’s charm.  Imagine buying a soda from a vending machine for a dime or a movie ticket for a dollar!  This new system would save the mint and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving a lot of money, be a boon to collectors, and preserve an important facet of our cultural heritage.

Let me know what you think in my first ever Panorama of the Mountains poll, or put a message in the comments:

Book Review: Respect: An Exploration by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot

It’s good to give, it’s good to get.  Respect: An Exploration (2000) by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot works at understanding this crucial aspect of human relationships through the stories of six people.  Each  of these messengers works in a field where respect is vital and represents a different qualities of respect:

  • Empowerment: Jennifer Dohrn, a nurse-midwife who founded and directs a childbearing clinic in the South Bronx.
  • Healing: Johnye Ballenger, a pediatrician.
  • Dialogue: Kay Cottle, a middle and high school teacher.
  • Curiosity: Dawoud Bey, a photographer/artist.
  • Self-Respect: David Wilkins, a law professor.
  • Attention: Bill Wallace, pastoral therapy to the dying in hospice.

Each portrait is part interview, part Lawrence-Lightfoot’s observations of that person at work, and part biography.  The case study method lends itself to a bit of cheesiness, but not too much, and not in a negative fashion.

I find it hard to summarize the book any further as it is through the interplay of these many factors where respect is teased out.  Read it yourself to find out.

Respect: An Exploration by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. Basic Books (2000), Edition: 1, Paperback, 256 pages

The Ultimate (Film) Personality Test

I came across this blog called the Triumph of Bullshit where the author has come up with “the ultimate personality test” based on a list of contemporary movie directors:

What I find most interesting is which movie people consider the best movie from a particular director, as it is usually very telling and polarizing in a different way, so to this point I will propose a new personality test where you reblog your favorite movie from each of these directors:

  1. Joel Coen: No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, Miller’s Crossing, Raising Arizona, etc
  2. Wes Anderson: The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tennenbaums, Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, etc
  3. Hal Ashby: Being There, Shampoo, Harold and Maude, etc
  4. Kevin Smith: Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Dogma, Chasing Amy, Mallrats, Clerks, etc
  5. Quentin Tarantino: Grindhouse, Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, etc

On another blog,, the author adds a few more directors:

6. Stanley Kubrick: 2001, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, Dr. Strangelove, Lolita, etc.
7. P.T. Anderson: Boogie Nights, Hard Eight, There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk Love, Magnolia.
8. Errol Morris: The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War, Mr. Death, Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, Gates of Heaven, etc.

I figure, for the sake of decimality, I will add a couple more directors:

9. Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children, Amelie, etc.
10. David Lynch: The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire

So, here are my choices:

  1. Fargo
  2. The Royal Tennenbaums (by default since it’s the only one I’ve seen!)
  3. Harold and Maude
  4. Clerks
  5. Jackie Brown (again, the only one I’ve seen – Quentin Tarantino’s films appear to violent for my tastes)
  6. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (one of my favorite movies of all time)
  7. There Will Be Blood (see parenthetical for #2 & 5)
  8. A Brief History of Time (the trend continues)
  9. The City of Lost Children
  10. Wild at Heart

Neither of the original blog posts said anything about what this test actually says about one’s personality, so I won’t either.  I’m getting the feeling though, that it says loud and clear that I don’t see enough movies.

At last, a 671st Post!

Today Panorama of the Mountains celebrates its second birthday.  Hurrah for me!  Now I’m the parent of a blog in it’s terrible twos.

A lot’s changed over two years, but much has remained the same.  Here’s what Panorama of the Mountains looked like on January 11th, 2007, the oldest page saved at the Internet archive.   Wow, there’s a lot of links in the blogroll I don’t read anymore.  In fact I don’t even blogroll anymore because it was getting cluttered (I do have plans to restore a more select blogroll, but you can always keep up with what I’m reading at Bloglines).


Total views: 56,372

Busiest day: 428 — Monday, September 29, 2008

Posts: 670

Comments: 701

Categories: 159

Tags: 342

6,531 spam comments (denied)


Title                                                              Views

Book Review: The Painted Veil by W. Some 2,530
Beer Review: Negro Modelo 2,282
Boston Walking Tours 925
Boston By Foot Tour of the Month: Art De 850
Book Review: The Great Divorce by C.S. L 809
Book Review: Mayflower by Nathaniel Phil 755
Books to Read in 2008 695
Mis pantalones son café: Mets Player 663
Weekend in New York 640
Book Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane 614

Frankly, I’m mystified by the appeal of some of these posts.  So here’s a list of my ten favorite posts of the past year, or at least the ones that deserved more attention for all the work and craft I put into them:

My hope for the next year is to have every post be as clever, witty and well-written as these ten.  Failing that, I need to find some way to better promote my best posts so this won’t become the blog known for Negro Modelo reviews.


When I started this blog I intended it to be the liberal blog that would oppose all those conservative blogs (yet somehow I rarely write about politics), a progressive Catholic blog (I found other people who write about faith better than I can), the best Mets blog in New England (which bored me to tears), a library blog from a public services perspective (I ran out of steam on that too) and a source of commentary on all sorts of things like books, movies, beer, concerts, and special events (that I’ve done very well).  Unable to settle on one theme, I decided it would be a panorama of ideas until one central theme emerged.  Two years later its still a panorama.  I have some ideas to make it better that I’ll be working on over the next several weeks, but overall I have to say I’m pretty pleased I’ve kept this up so long.