From negronis to Molotovs
A very different kind of cocktail hour in Kyiv.
Sipping my favourite tipple in Kyiv and Odesa’s swanky bars and eateries last October, I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that these two vibrant, bustling and storied cities would now be under brutal assault.
Putin’s military misadventures stretching back over more than two decades — in Chechnya, Georgia, Syria and the Ukraine itself — means I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised at his progression to an all-out, multi-pronged invasion.
The difficulty — and inadequacy — of putting words down about this unfolding tragedy made me recall a poem I wrote back in 2014:
Sometimes writing poetry is hard
Right now I can only write
a poem about not writing
a poem about that
dark place where words,
like empty lamps, fail.
Brighter news. My dear friend and Skype writing buddy Alistair Mackay’s stunning debut novel — It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way — has just been published by Kwela Books in South Africa. Alistair will be the inaugural guest of the freshly minted TONGUES BOOK CLUB: an occasional series of conversations featuring authors whose works provocatively challenge the status quo, inspiring imaginative ways of engaging with the burning issues of our time. This book does all that — in spades. Set in Cape Town in the near future, it’s about three queer friends trying to navigate an increasingly fractured, violent and unstable world ravaged by climate collapse, rampant inequality and increasingly intrusive tech.
Cheerful stuff, I know! 👻 But, hey, there’s nothing like the impending climate catastrophe to take your mind off Ukraine. And so, do join us — at a computer near you — on Sunday 10th April (14.00 ET, 19.00 BST, 20.00 SAST/CEST). To attend this hour-long event, please register via Zoom. You can find out more about Alistair and his book here. And if you’re curious about TONGUES (the online interview publication I edit, read your heart out here. 💖)
By the time [my other] book club (The One Where We Read Old Books) convened this week to discuss The Aeneid, I had only read a third of it. This is partly because I’ve spending far more time FT doomscrolling than reading Vergil and partly because (notwithstanding Shadi Bartsch’s perky translation) it failed to enthral me the way The Odyssey did — the latter is (at least for me) a far richer, multi-layered work. I doubt I’ll continue with The Aeneid. Life is short, and my purchasing of books right now is far outstripping my completion of them; the pile of the great unread grows ever higher. Which of the classics intrigued — or bored — you the most?
EM Forster’s Passage to India is up next, with the Old Book Club convening on the 28th March to discuss this masterpiece. Ping me if you’d like to join us — we don’t bite (or, at least, not when we’re conversing on Skype). In spite of adoring Arctic Summer, Damon Galgut’s shimmering novel about Forster’s struggle to write Passage, I’ve never actually read the latter. I’m excited to be rectifying this egregious oversight in the coming weeks.
Only connect. Forster novels that I have read — and loved: Howards End (swoon!) and A Room with a View (so funny!). (The Merchant Ivory movie adaptations of both are heavenly too.) I quickly abandoned Maurice (there was too much religious angst and not nearly enough sex — an apt summation of my late teens and early 20s, as it so happens). It’s the same problem I had with Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Maybe now that I’m not a smut-obsessed teenager, I’ll give both another go.
I’d rather stab my eyes out than watch episodes of Queer Eye or a Madea movie. At least that’s what I thought until very recently, when I did both — with great enjoyment! During Serious Times, there’s a lot to be said for Silly TV.
What have you been watching lately? (And PLEASE don’t say Inventing Anna.)
There’s less than 100 days (eek!) till I attempt AIDS/Lifecycle, the 545 mile ride from San Francisco to LA. If you’d like to follow along, subscribe to my weekly pop-up newsletter (would you believe I still don’t know how to change a tyre).