Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Notes towards a taxonomy of the novels of John le Carré

October 18, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 18, 2016

The British author John le Carré has written 23 novels, according to Wikipedia, of which I’ve read about two-thirds. If one were to draw a Venn diagram of le Carré’s oeuvre, there would be two main “bubbles,” or categories: Those in which the protagonist is a professional spy and those in which she or he is not.

An example of the former would be all of the so-called George Smiley novels, of which Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is perhaps best known: Smiley devotes his entire career to British intelligence. An example of the latter would be many of le Carré’s other books, such as two of my favorite novels by him: 1993’s The Night Manager, in which a hotel manager is drafted for an operation targeting illicit international arms dealers, and 2001’s The Constant Gardener, in which an ordinary British diplomat begins to uncover shady doings by a multinational company after the death of his unfaithful wife.

Several other le Carré books feature amateurs who dally in espionage. There’s The Russia House (1989), wherein a British publisher becomes a courier for a spy ring; The Little Drummer Girl (1983), in which a radical English actress is recruited to locate a Palestinian terrorist; and Our Kind of Traitor (2010), in which a professional London couple decides to help a Russian money launderer and his family defect to England.

And what, you may ask, of the overlapping between the two bubbles? This area is dedicated to two kinds of novels. One type has multiple leading characters, some of whom are professional spies and some of whom are not; the other, a leading character whose status is nebulous or transitional.

In The Tailor of Panama, there are two main characters: The eponymous tailor and the duplicitous British spy who recruits him. Obviously, this homage to Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana belongs to the first type, as does A Most Wanted Man, with its multiple characters, some intelligence professionals and others (more or less) ordinary individuals. A Perfect Spy tracks its main character, Magnus Pym, from childhood through a key episode in his adulthood; this book, of course, belongs to the second type.

I’ll touch upon this le Carré taxonomy later this week…

Extraordinary circumstances prompt an ordinary man to stand against genocide in the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’

December 3, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Dec. 3, 2015

Hotel Rwanda, the 2004 drama that Terry George directed and co-wrote with Keir Pearson, is a movie that is tempting to look away from. It concerns Rwanda’s genocidal 1994 civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, a conflict in which approximately 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered — more than a tenth of the nation’s population at the time. (In preparing this blog post, I saw one estimate that put the casualties at more than 1 million dead.)

I purchased a copy of the DVD in 2012 after listening to an audio version of An Ordinary Mana memoir about the genocide, but not until last week did I watch the movie. It stars Don Cheadle as Paul Rusesabagina, who sheltered about 1,200 refugees from the genocide at the luxury hotel he managed in the Rwanda capital of Kigali. The real-life Rusesabagina co-wrote a memoir with Tom Zellner that was published three years after Hotel Rwanda was released, although his story inspired the movie; he himself served as a consultant for the picture.

Somewhat to my surprise, I found Hotel Rwanda to be a thoroughly watchable movie, despite the relentlessly grim true-life circumstances that frame the story. The script focuses on Rusesabagina’s efforts to navigate the perils of the civil conflict that erupts suddenly the morning after Rwanda’s president dies when his plane is shot down. We see Rusesabagina — a Hutu hotel manager, husband and father whose wife, Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo), is a Tutsi — negotiate with genocidal Interahamwe militia members, a laissez-faire Rwanda army general and various foreigners.

The latter group wield increasingly little influence on the bloody events that are decimating Rwanda, thanks largely to international apathy about what the world mostly views as a faraway slaughter involving inconsequential African peasants. One of the movie’s most poignant sequences come as foreign powers evacuate their citizens, a clear signal that they will do nothing to prevent further violence.

Hotel Rwanda occasionally comes off as preachy, mainly due to a few clunky-sounding speeches that George and Pearson put in the mouths of Nick Nolte, who plays a Canadian colonel leading a detachment of United Nations soldiers, and Joaquin Phoenix, who plays a righteous journalist who trusts neither himself nor the West to do the right thing. Thankfully, the movie is more interested in showing Rusesabagina and his wife react to and try to survive the ethnic purge that is being conducted right outside the gates of the Hotel Mille Collines in the Rwandan capital of Kigali.

Read the rest of this entry »

%d bloggers like this: