catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 23 :: 2008.12.19 — 2009.01.02


Kirstin’s recommendations 12.19.08

FILM: Lord of War

It begins and ends with the same scene: a solitary, dark suited figure stands on thousands of spent shell casings against the backdrop of a bombed-out neighborhood.  That figure is Yuri Orlov, a self-made international arms dealer from humble Ukrainian immigrant origins in Little Odessa.  The 2005 film, which follows Yuri’s ascendancy, begins with the tone of a black comedy.  For example, Father Orlov so enjoys masquerading as a Jew to escape the Ukraine that he keeps up the charade with a mixture of genuine and mocking piety.  Yuri, the son who apparently can do no wrong, rises quickly in the shady ranks, pretending to be an extravagant multimillionaire until he actually becomes one.  The tone turns, however, when Yuri strikes a deal with Liberian dictator Andre Baptiste on a continent whose chaos will eventually consume him. Where the 2008 summer blockbuster Iron Man pulled punches in attacking the arms industry, Lord of War doesn’t, leaving viewers despairing of the machinery that willingly orchestrates torture and terror for political gains.  The film concludes with a deus ex machina moment so absurd, it almost allows the viewer to dismiss the story as unrealistic and therefore Yuri’s unanswered question of complicity in terrorism irrelevant.  The final reel, however, reveals that Yuri is a composite character based on real people and the black comedy shows its true character: a black tragedy that calls viewers to lament.


BOOK: What is the What

Everyone kept saying, “No, really, What is the What is so different from A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis.  The narrative voice isn’t nearly so…annoying.”  Even though I stuck with and actually enjoyed Heartbreaking Work, I found this analysis to be true.  Dave Eggers’ transformation from one book to the next achieves a level of literary performance art in What is the What as he tells the story of Valentino Achak Deng, who starts running as a small boy when civil war reaches his village in Sudan and is still running-or thinking about it-when we meet him in Atlanta, Georgia as a young man.  The interweaving of Deng’s present with his past is masterful and no doubt suggested by Eggers’ extensive interviews with the Lost Boy about the internal and external artifacts of his circumstances.  Throughout the novel, a present day crisis overlaps with Deng’s history as he mentally conveys his incredible story to the people he meets within the space of two tumultuous days.  Even though dominant themes include poverty, violence to women and children, fear, insecurity, helplessness, brainwashing and power manipulation, the reader is never asked to pity Deng, only to listen.  And in a marvelous twist at the end of the book, the listener is graciously rescued from despair, even welcomed into hope only by virtue of having persevered in listening.  What is the What is an extremely important novel that not only documents an historical era, but inspires compassion, humility and sorrow in its readers that extends beyond the subject of the story itself.  I have no doubt it will make many standard reading lists as time goes on, and rightfully so.

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