Personal update

Next spring will be the 50th reunion of my college graduating class, and the organizers have asked us for a personal essay. Here's mine, on one of the three suggested topics: the most important events for us in the past five years. It may help you understand "where I'm coming from," to judge the worth of any of my opinions here in the blog.

At the Librería Nobel, Vera, Almería, Spain, Dec. 2010
The two biggest changes in my life in the past 5 years have been our move from New York City to our new home in Carboneras, Almería, Spain, and the publication of my novel A Gift for the Sultan.

In 2009 my life partner Susana Torre and I moved into one of a complex of seven semi-detached houses, designed by Susana and built by our new Spanish company on a hillside on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. Besides the constant conversation of the sea, from murmurs to roars, and our interactions with new friends and neighbors, our home gives us easy access to other parts of Europe and beyond. Leaving the hubub of 8 million for the slower, sometimes comical and always nosy life of a village of 8 thousand has also brought us the surprises and discoveries of immersion in the mother culture of the Latin American societies that we both know well— Susana from her birth and early education in Argentina, I through years of writing and research. 

The publication in 2010 of A Gift for the Sultan, inspired by real events during the 1402 Ottoman siege of Constantinople, marked a new stage in my writing career. This was my first book on anything but Latin America, and my largest work of fiction to date. The idea came to me after our first visit to Istanbul in 1996, which was a kind of celebration for completing my book on Latin Americans in the U.S., Hispanic Nation. Plunging into a period and cultures entirely new to me was exhilarating, but also challenging. But research was not the main problem. The greater challenge was to construct a coherent story and bring it to a conclusion which was not merely satisfying, but also true to the larger history and to the behaviours of such people in such a time. I think I succeeded: the book has received good reviews from readers and so impressed those in Turkey, where I’ve been invited to discuss it several times, that an Istanbul publisher, Nokta, has bought the translation rights and plans to publish it shortly.

In the summer of 2012 I invited three other experienced author-editors to join me in an editorial collective, Thoth Books , to edit and promote new works. Our first publication (August 2012)  has been an expanded e-book edition of my 1988 collection of short stories of Latin America, Welcome to My Contri.

Now that I’m operating from an ideal place to work, with good collegial relations and greater experience and confidence in my skills, I expect to have more works worth reading to share with you before our 60th class reunion. To stay tuned, check out my blog Literature & Society (http://geoffreyfox.blogspot.com.es/).


Mobilizations everywhere

Everywhere lately we have been seeing big, sudden and sometimes terribly violent rallies of angry people — the worst, with the deadliest consequences, in Benghazi, Cairo and other parts of the Islamic world beginning September 11, but almost simultaneously in Barcelona (also September 11), Madrid and Lisbon (both with huge rallies on September 15), Moscow and across China. Very different movements, but the fact that they are all happening now reflects the conjunction of two global phenomena: The explosion of electronic media, making it vastly easier to convoke a crowd, and deteriorating economic conditions everwhere.

About those violent assaults on U.S. embassies in Muslim countries that began on September 11, I think Ross Douthat is right about the immediate cause: it was not about a movie that, as far as we know, doesn't even exist (nobody seems to have seen any more than a 14-minute trailer) — though the video was sure convenient for the assailants.
It’s Not About the Video - NYTimes.com

The question remains, though: Why did such large numbers of angry people respond? Focusing on the video has got us into a useless and damaging debate about whether we should limit "blasphemy," a concept that has no place in a free society. It also encourages the notion that Muslims are generally crazed fanatics easily aroused if you push their sacred buttons. Those of us who are a little older remember when the really big political movement in Egypt and from there to other parts of the Arab world was entirely secular — Nasser and with his call for pan-Arabism could muster enormous enthusiastic crowds, even without Twitter or SMS. Religious fanaticism is not genetic or eternal, but a circumstantial response to some very dramatic circumstances.

Here, since I claim no special expertise on the region, all I want to offer is two lines of investigation to identify the forces that are inducing people to look for radical solutions. We should first look at demographics, and then who those interplay with economics, and only then do the particular doctrines of preachers, ulemas and other agitators become relevant. In the Arab world, and in almost all other Islamic countries as well, population has been growing too fast to be absorbed in a rigid, and closed, opportunity system, and the economic crisis— including in parts of the Near East, a long-lasting drought that has driven more and more people to the overcrowded cities, creating greater density of desperate folks.

There are other possible answers to the economic crisis, and other ways to mobilize mass discontent. Limiting anybody's freedom of expression, as in the proposed legislation to outlaw "blasphemy" as in Tunis, is just going to delay finding such a solution. We need the freest debate possible to find those answers.

I hope to say something about those other mobilizations (Spain, Portugal, and Catalonia among them) in future notes — not because I know the answers, but at least to clarify our questions, what is really at stake and what can we do about the really serious world problems?