by Roberto Friedman
Scenes from Early Life, a novel by British author Philip Hensher (Faber and Faber) just published in the U.S., is told from the point of view of the author's real-life Bangladeshi husband Zaved Mahmood (called Saadi in the book). The novel tells the stories of Mahmood's extended Bengali family, who live in the capital city Dhaka (now Dacca) during Bangladesh's war of independence with Pakistan in 1971. Hensher narrates in Saadi's boyhood voice, in an act of ventriloquism that put Out There in mind of lesbian icon Gertrude Stein 's voice-throwing The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
Most of the book's action centers on Saadi's grandfather's house in the upper-class Dhanmondi district of Dacca, a sort of family compound with its full complement of aunties and hangers-on. Bengali poetry, music and crafts are an important part of the mix. But the brutalities of the Pakistani occupation, and the bloody confusions of the war, intrude into domestic concerns. Hensher also introduces a male couple, Altaf and Amit, itinerant musicians whose cozy life together is disrupted when Amit, a Hindu, must flee to Calcutta during a Pakistani crackdown. But before then, Hensher does a good job of showing how same-sex unions were tolerated, indeed embraced, in traditional cultures. "Amit's face showed that, from the beginning, he had considered Altaf a part of his plans for living. Altaf's heart swelled at the kindness of his friend, and at the degree of understanding between them that went without words."
Announced our favorite recent press release, "Lesbians take over the Grammys' Spoken Word category!" We did not know that! Did you know that? Scope it: "The Best Spoken Word Album category is ruled by three extremely talented and respected gay women: Janis Ian , Rachel Maddow and Ellen DeGeneres. Other nominees include another two reasonably well-known authors: Bill Clinton (Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy) and Michelle Obama (American Grown). Talk about tough competition.
"Ian is nominated for her unique audio version of her autobiography Society's Child, which is punctuated by her vocals of choruses and relevant lines of her songs that describe each chapter of her life. The title comes from her Grammy-nominated song of the same name earned when she was only 15, which gave her a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame. This is her ninth nomination in various categories, from jazz to folk, best vocal, best record, with two Grammy wins.
"Maddow takes on a more serious topic, The Unmooring of American Military Power, while DeGeneres brings her comedy to us in the audio version of her book Seriously – I'm Kidding." The 55th Grammys will air on CBS-TV on Feb. 10. Go lesbians!
Out There was in the house last week for a sumptuous press feed at Hyatt Fisherman's Wharf to preview the hotel's new Seafood Watch menu, where we learned that it's one of very few SF venues to earn thumbs up from the watchdog group, which rewards sustainable seafood on menus. The Dungeness crab cakes and Monterey Striped Bass we devoured fit the bill, and we learned from Monterey Bay Aquarium staff which fish we can safely order in a "blind situation" (i.e., tilapia) and which fish to shun (i.e., farmed salmon). You can learn what we did at www.montereybayaqaurium.com/seafoodwatch.
Correction: In our year-end dance piece (1/3), the choreographer Jorge Rodolfo de Hoyos was misidentified as Jorge Rafael de Hoyos. The B.A.R. regrets the error, and the online edition has been corrected.