Khalid Hussain (khalid_hussain) wrote,
Khalid Hussain

Books, films, music

Now that the semester has come to an end, I have had a little more time to explore things that I wouldn't ordinarily have time for during the semester.

A colleague has composed a series of works that reference Don DeLillo's Falling Man, which is a novel about the fall of the World Trade Center and its aftermath. I requested scores of the pieces and have floated the idea of presenting some of my analytical insights to the composition students next year. Out of curiosity I read the novel. My sense is that DeLillo is vying for the position of novelist of record of the contemporary American situation. I found his characters to be mainly neurotic and highly unsympathetic, except maybe for the protagonist's wife. It's hard for me to develop a sense of how the novel could have generated creative emotions, even though there is a musical idea that is associated with the figure of the Falling Man in the compositions that is actually quite beautiful.

Following up on the theme of post-2001 literature, I went to an art house theater to see Mira Nair's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which is based on a novel by Mohsin Hamid. I thought the film was powerful. (There were, however, only four us in the theater.) The visuals were beautiful, and the lead actor, Riz Ahmed, is by no means difficult to look at for two hours. :-) I became curious about the novel and found a copy in the university library. It was quite a bit leaner and tauter than the film. Among the things I could relate to were the Ivy league education of the author, and also of the main character in the book and film. There is also, of course, the feeling of being a perpetual outsider. This is portrayed in the book and film by the main character's mentor at the financial valuation firm where he works after graduating from Princeton. The mentor is played by Kiefer Sutherland. In the book, but not in the film, it is implied that besides having been the son of a car salesman, the mentor may also be gay.

A Bosnian film, Grbavica, Land of My Dreams, came via Netflix a couple of weeks ago, and I found a block of time in which to watch it this week. Since I had been watching mainly gay-themed films in the last couple of months, I wasn't sure I would be able to relate as easily to a film that featured female characters. I wasn't sure how I felt about it at first, but it snuck up on me and ended up being one of the most powerfully emotional cinematic experiences I have ever had. One of the things that struck me about the film was the kind of music that appears at the beginning and end of the film, when women are seated on the floor at a women's support group. Evidently, women's support groups were set up after the war because there had been so many women widowed, or who had lost children, or who had been sexually assaulted during the war. I don't know that much about the program, but it seems to have been a government- or NGO-sponsored effort to help women heal from their experiences. An incentive for attendance was the dispensation of small stipends, which many of them needed because of unemployment or underemployment. Here's a trailer for the film:

After I watched the film, I tried to figure out what kind of music it was that was being sung during the women's group. I soon found out that it is called sevdalinka, or sevdah. The word is supposed to come from the Arabic, via Turkish, for black bile, i.e. melancholia. They are often performed along with Bosnian illahis (ilahije), and sometimes the genres blend a bit. I've been exploring both of these genres a bit recently. It's powerful stuff.

Well, it's time for me to go to bed.



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