Thursday, June 4, 2009

I don't usually do politics, but...

My husband directed me to this item on his news blog:

Russian Notes
"Yale University, which displays a Van Gogh painting seized after the
Bolshevik revolution of 1918, was sued by a man who claims he’s the
descendant of the former Russian owner and the artwork rightfully
belongs to him."

Of course, I followed the link, which took me to this reported response by Yale: Yale, which sued Konowaloff in March seeking a court ruling that it’s the rightful owner, says sales of artwork
“nationalized” by the Soviet Union were valid

Now I have to admit I didn't do any further research, and therefore I won't assign blame or comment on the validity of Yale's rights to the painting.

I do want to draw a picture, however.

Say you've worked very hard to be able to afford the kind of home you've always dreamed of. You fill it with the kind of artwork you desire, honestly and rightfully purchased by your hard-earned money.

Then a new administration comes into power and declares (I do not mean passes a law, which would take years of debate and would never roll in the United States), but just declares that all art is the property of the government. Regardless of who paid for it, of who labored to acquire it, of who loved it enough to buy it.

And the entire world approves.

How fair is that?

Not fair at all. No one approved when Hitler did it. The entire world seeks to put that wrong to rights.

But it's OK when it's the Soviet Union who did it? Why?

And if you're wondering why I'm so fired up about the issue, well, it's because the same Soviet Union stole all of my grandparents property, reduced them to begging, and ultimately caused my baby aunt's death by hunger when they exiled my grandparents to a frozen labor camp.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

I dropped by Skhye Moncrief's blog today because she has yet another cool research book suggestion, Kinship and Gender.

It made me think of Ursula K. LeGuin's novel The Left Hand of Darkness. I commented on that on Skhye's blog, but I couldn't say much in a comment. And the book deserves a bit more.

The way genres cross today within books, we should dare navigate from our familiar aisles in the bookstore and explore the less familiar areas. If you like world-building and emotional stories, then The Left Hand of Darkness is a good candidate for a change.

It's a classical sci-fi novel in the best tradition, combining a wonderful, well-told story, strong characters, emotional scenes, and a deep philosophical subtext that is raised through storytelling and character development.

The Left Hand of Darkness is about the clash of cultures, about misunderstanding and intolerance, but also about friendship, love, and discovery. It is about honor, fidelity, and devotion. It is, ultimately, about the victory of what is essentially human within us, once the veneer of civilization is stripped away, and cultural bounds are made irrelevant by the demands of a struggle for sheer survival.

It is also about gender identity and how we perceive ourselves -- or don't -- through the eyes of an alien people whose physical gender is not as visible, or as determined, as ours.

It is also a love story, although not in the traditional sense. But then, it is science-fiction, and sci-fi readers do expect something "untraditional" in their tales. It is, however, powerful and compelling, emotional, and it will make you think and feel for the charactes for a long time after you turn the last page.

From Barnes and Noble, a short synopsis: In The Left Hand of Darkness, an Earth ambassador, Genly Ai, is sent to the planet of Gethen, whose inhabitants are androgynous. Through his relationship with a native, Estraven, Ai gains understanding both of the consequences of his fixed sexual orientation and of Gethenian life. As in many of her works, Le Guin incorporates a social message in her science fiction tale.