New Books by Sewanee Review Authors
Read the story on the Sewanee Review website.
Opinion Piece- The Asheville Citizen-Times
Community and technical colleges are becoming more and more numerous, and the quality of their facilities, teachers and students is increasing. They provide the kind of education and skill training that enables younger and older women and men to apply for a great variety of practical and much needed jobs.
A liberal arts education, on undergraduate and graduate levels, enables students to secure jobs in all fields, from engineering, computer science and medicine to creative writing, drama and the various other arts. Leaders in all fields favor employing people who have had a liberal arts education at some level.
Recent funding cuts, proposed cuts and negative comments from legislative and other elected leaders affecting the liberal arts move me to make a few observations.
Although community and technical colleges provide more and more liberal arts courses, their primary mission remains practical. In liberal arts colleges and universities, far more courses, in a larger cultural context, place the primary emphasis upon cultivating the ability to think and to bring creative imagination to bear as individuals in the professions, as well as in corporations and industries. Those qualities have resulted in many of the great inventions of recent times and in the creation of innovative businesses. The liberal arts also cultivate compassion, with its many effects in all areas of culture and society.
The effect on liberal arts of the great success of community and technical colleges has been significant change, with many greater changes to come. Higher education will try to compete with community colleges, with some positive results, but most probably the liberal arts will suffer, as they have already suffered in public primary and secondary schools.
To avoid further negative results, cooperation is now very much needed among government (local, state and federal) and community colleges and liberal arts colleges and universities. The goal should be: little loss but great gain.
Even now, the common conception of liberal arts institutions as esoteric and elitist ivory towers no longer applies. Practical service is now a major component of those institutions and their alumni groups.
Greater government public and private support should go, therefore, with equal vigor and dedication to both community and liberal arts institutions.
Novelist David Madden is a member of a group of Yale alumni volunteers working in support of the mission of Hall-Fletcher Elementary School in West Asheville.
Why We Read Novels, Letter to the Editor, New York Times
Published: May 2, 2013
To the Editor:
The headline on Nathaniel Rich’s essay “Writing the End” (April 21) asks, “Should novelists try harder to confront long-term environmental crises?” As the author of 12 novels since 1961 and another in progress, I answer no.
Rich’s final paragraph offers a litany of reasons we read novels. They hold “a mirror to our secret desires and fears,” they allow us “to confront our long-term crises,” and they help us “to understand how the vast, complex problems of our time connect with our private inner lives.”
Then Rich burdens fellow novelists with the obligation “to pose the intimate questions” concerning the many ways the bad news about man’s future affects us. As a writer and teacher of writing for 60 years, I cannot recall ever hearing a writer or reader testify to the value of a novel as deriving from such utilitarian purposes as Rich claims. Great novels create pure experiences that affect our emotions, imaginations and intellect in ways that are mostly mysterious.
Black Mountain, N.C.
For over two thousand years, London Bridge evolved through many fragile wooden forms until it became the first bridge built of stone since the leaving of the Roman invaders. In David Madden’s tenth novel, London Bridge is as much a living, breathing character as its architect Father Peter de Colechurch, who began work on it in 1176, partly to honor Archbishop Thomas a Becket, murdered in Canterbury Cathedral. Twenty-five years in the making, that version was a wonder of the world until it was dismantled in 1832.
In the year of the Great Plague of London, 1665, few Londoners, including the 135 merchants who have shops and houses on the bridge itself, remembered Peter de Colechurch. Daryl Braintree, a young poet living on the sixth floor of Nonesuch House on the bridge, began resurrecting Peter, recreating the building and the history of the bridge in his own imagination. As he also writes poems about the bridge, he mourns the disappearance of his father, the Old Chronicler of the Bridge, and reads his writing to his witty mistress, Mistretta, who would rather keep on making love. Throughout the Great Plague and the Great Fire the following year, the Poet remains immersed in factual research and flights of the imagination.
David Madden’s imagination reaches beyond the Poet and Peter de Colechurch, whose best friend was a famous courtesan, to embrace a gallery of equally important characters.
As a young boy, Lucien Redd, sexually and physically abused by both Puritans and Cavaliers during the English Civil War, was kidnapped off London Bridge onto a merchant ship. He aspires to become Lucifer’s most evil disciple.
Also as a young boy twenty years later, Morgan Wood is forced to serve on a merchant ship to pay off his father’s debt to goldsmith Clinkinbeard, a major merchant on the bridge. Compelled by a profound nostalgia for life on the bridge, Morgan keeps a journal. Coming onto the ship, Lucien befriends Morgan only to set him up for motiveless destruction.
Surviving plague and fire, but fearing that God’s wrath will turn upon the bridge, the bridge merchants, led by goldsmith Clinkinbeard, ultimately revert to an ancient pagan ritual by choosing one of their thirteen-year-old daughters to be buried alive in a pier at the South end. Having chosen Blythe, ignorant of the fact that she is no virgin, they hire Lucien, who has come to the bridge to burn it, to kidnap and place her in the pier. Blythe urges Lucien to take her innocent playmate Gilda.
Morgan, who has eluded Lucien, appears as the inhabitants of the shops and houses on the bridge are searching for Blythe.
Like his creation the Poet, Madden employs several innovative ways of telling this often shocking but also lyrical and complex story. His well-known mastery of imagery is at its most impressive.
Read THOMAS BECKET’S BONES ARE MISSING, A short story adapted from the novel [published in Sewanee Review].
For more on the history of Ancient London Bridge and a virtual museum, go to The London Bridge Museum & Educational Trust.
Read Greg Langley’s review of London Bridge in Plague and Fire that appeared recently in The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA).
Reading from LONDON BRIDGE IN PLAGUE AND FIRE, Sunday , January 27, at 3:00 Bijou Theater, Gay Street, Knoxville, Tennessee. Sponsored by Lawson McGhee Library, Knoxville.
Istanbul Passage is moody, psychological espionage tale
By David Madden
Special to Magazine (The Advocate)
By Joseph Kanon
Atria Books, $26; 401 pp.
Obviously, Joseph Kanon so loves Istanbul that he could not resist moving his protagonist back and forth all over the city. Everyone who goes there loves that city. For anyone who has not yet gone there, Kanon’s love will set you down walking on Galata Bridge, breathing the air sweeping over the Golden Horn from the Bosphorus strait. Inside, front and back, a very effective two-page map shows where we are. Never mind that the time frame is wartime early 1940s.
But Istanbul Passage is less a travel narrative or a love story than it is a moody psychological espionage tale. Leon Bauer is an expatriate American businessman who allows himself to get caught up in the Allied war effort doing odd jobs and courier runs for a business associate who is involved in delivering a war criminal to either the Russians or the Americans. Leon himself ends up with the task of trying to save the life of that loathsome creature.
Leon visits his psychotic wife who languishes in a clinic, simultaneously falling in love with the estranged wife of a businessman who is mysteriously murdered. The body count is rather low, but the tension is consistently very high, as Leon moves the war criminal from place to place, dealing with a vicious Russian official and an official of the Turkish police.
Kanon has forged a somewhat unique style. More effectively than John Le Carre, Graham Greene, or even Georges Simenon, Kanon simulates murky perception and thought processes. The reader’s experience is one of prolonged immersion in the sustained point of view of Leon whose dangerous predicaments render him acutely aware. “Had they heard about the shooting yet? Pages being made up, lines of type. Murder in Bebek. Mysterious shooting on the Bosphorus. No witnesses. Never suspecting the witness was outside their windows right now. Not just a witness, the killer. The sound of the shot was still in his head, an echo. Life gone in a minute, that easy.”
Author of five previous novels, including The Good German, Kanon is also a master of fast paced dialogue. Few visitors to Istanbul see as much as Kanon shows by a fitful light.
David Madden’s 13th work of fiction is London Bridge in Plague and Fire, just out.
Read Rob Neufeld’s article on David Madden’s new novel, London Bridge in Plague and Fire” on The Read on WNC.