Archives: February 2015

Mark Zuckerberg picks ON IMMUNITY for his Facebook reading group

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Facebook founder Mark ‘Oprah’ Zuckerberg has selected On Immunity by Eula Biss, published only yesterday by Fitzcarraldo Editions in the UK, as the fourth book in his ‘Year in Books’ challenge. Claire Armitstead, in the Guardian, reported on this this morning:

Mark Zuckerberg has tapped into an area of growing social anxiety with his fourth book club choice, announced on Wednesday.

The Facebook founder showed his talent for surfing the zeitgeist by selecting On Immunity: An Inoculation, by essayist Eula Biss, which investigates the fears around vaccination in the context of her own terrors as a new mother.

On Immunity was among the New York Times Book Review’s top 10 books of 2014 and is published in the UK this week by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

The choice comes as the US confronts a measles outbreak linked with a breakdown in “herd immunity”, exacerbated by more and more families opting out of vaccination.ch how the measles outbreak spreads when kids get vaccinated – and when they don

Biss’s UK publisher says she “addresses a chronic condition of fear – fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what may be in your children’s air, food, mattresses, medicines, and vaccines.

“She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s Aids and Its Metaphors, and beyond. On Immunity is an inoculation against our fear and a moving account of how we are all interconnected – our bodies and our fates.”

In a Facebook post on Wednesday for his series A Year in Books, Zuckerberg said he chose Biss’s book because it addresses “an important and timely topic.”

“The science is completely clear: vaccinations work and are important for the health of everyone in our community,” Zuckerberg wrote. “This book explores the reasons why some people question vaccines, and then logically explains why the doubts are unfounded and vaccines are in fact effective and safe.”

Since launching his project, in an attempt to “beat the popularity of Oprah’s book club”, Zuckerberg has attempted to introduce his 31 million Facebook followers to economics, psychology and sociology. 

The announcement of his first choice, Moisés Naím’s The End of Power, caused the book to shoot up the charts, though the Q&A that followed was lacklustre, with the Washington Post reporting: “Hardly anybody showed up. (And of those who did, few had actually read the book.)”

He followed that book with Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature andGang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh.

His Facebook post suggested that his failure so far to match up to Oprah’s success may have taught him one valuable lesson. “This book was recommended to me by scientists and friends who work in public health,” he wrote. “It’s also a relatively short book — one that you should be able to read in a few hours. I encourage you to check it out and to join the discussion.”

Eula Biss’s ON IMMUNITY published today in the UK

The third book published by Fitzcarraldo Editions
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Published today, 18 February 2015, in the UK, On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss is available to buy through the Fitzcarraldo Editions websiteand in bookshops nationwide. 

In this bold, fascinating book, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear—fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what may be in your children’s air, food, mattresses, medicines, and vaccines. Reflecting on her own experience as a new mother, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond. On Immunity is an inoculation against our fear and a moving account of how we are all interconnected—our bodies and our fates.

The book has already attracted praise in the UK, with a lengthy review in this week’s New Statesman by Steven Poole[T]he widely used phrase “herd immunity” [is] one of those buried metaphors that Eula Biss regularly stops to unearth throughout this beautifully written essay … [P]artly a fruitful archaeology of ideas about immunity – which sometimes seem to be metaphor all the way down – and partly a memoir: the subject took on visceral importance for the author once she gave birth to a son who turned out to have severe allergies.’

On Immunity has been shortlisted for the National Books Critics Circle Award for ‘Criticism’; it was also named one of the New York Times Top 10 Books of 2014. The opening section of the book is available to read on our website (click the ‘Read Preview’ tab). A longer excerpt is available to read in Guernica magazine.

For any PR enquiries, please email info@fitzcarraldoeditions.com. For any bookshop enquiries, please email amelie@faber.co.uk. 

Ghosts of the Tsunami

Richard Lloyd Parry in the London Review of Books
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An extraordinary piece by Richard Lloyd Parry on loss and mourning in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami: 

I met a priest in the north of Japan who exorcised the spirits of people who had drowned in the tsunami. The ghosts did not appear in large numbers until later in the year, but Reverend Kaneda’s first case of possession came to him after less than a fortnight. He was chief priest at a Zen temple in the inland town of Kurihara. The earthquake on 11 March 2011 was the most violent that he, or anyone he knew, had ever experienced. The great wooden beams of the temple’s halls had flexed and groaned with the strain. Power, water and telephone lines were fractured for days; deprived of electricity, people in Kurihara, thirty miles from the coast, had a dimmer idea of what was going on there than television viewers on the other side of the world. But it became clear enough, when first a handful of families, and then a mass of them, began arriving at Kaneda’s temple with corpses to bury.

Nearly twenty thousand people had died at a stroke. In the space of a month, Kaneda performed funeral services for two hundred of them. More appalling than the scale of death was the spectacle of the bereaved survivors. ‘They didn’t cry,’ Kaneda said to me a year later. ‘There was no emotion at all. The loss was so profound and death had come so suddenly. They understood the facts of their situation individually – that they had lost their homes, lost their livelihoods and lost their families. They understood each piece, but they couldn’t see it as a whole, and they couldn’t understand what they should do, or sometimes even where they were. I couldn’t really talk to them, to be honest. All I could do was stay with them, and read the sutras and conduct the ceremonies. That was the thing I could do.’

Amid this numbness and horror, Kaneda received a visit from a man he knew, a local builder whom I will call Takeshi Ono. Ono was ashamed of what had happened, and didn’t want his real name to be published. ‘He’s such an innocent person,’ Kaneda said to me. ‘He takes everything at face value. You’re from England, aren’t you? He’s like your Mr Bean.’ I wouldn’t have gone so far, because there was nothing ridiculous about Ono. He was a strong, stocky man in his late thirties, the kind of man most comfortable in blue overalls. But he had a dreamy ingenuousness that made the story he told all the more believable.

He had been at work on a house when the earthquake struck. He clung to the ground for as long as it lasted; even his lorry shook as if it was about to topple over. The drive home, along roads without traffic lights, was alarming, but the physical damage was remarkably slight: a few telegraph poles lolling at an angle, toppled garden walls. As the owner of a small building firm, no one was better equipped to deal with the practical inconveniences inflicted by an earthquake. Ono spent the next few days busying himself with camping stoves, generators and jerry cans, and paying little attention to the news.

But once television was restored it was impossible to be unaware of what had happened. Ono watched the endlessly replayed image of the explosive plume above the nuclear reactor, and the mobile phone films of the black wave crunching up ports, houses, shopping centres, cars and human figures. These were places he had known all his life, fishing towns and beaches just over the hills, an hour’s drive away. And watching their destruction produced in Ono a feeling common at that time, even among those most directly affected by displacement and bereavement. Although what had happened was undeniable – the destruction of entire towns and villages, the extinction of a multitude – it was also impossible. Impossible and, in fact, absurd. Insupportable, soul-crushing, unfathomable – but also just silly.

‘My life had returned to normal,’ he told me. ‘I had petrol, I had an electricity generator, no one I knew was dead or hurt. I hadn’t seen the tsunami myself, not with my own eyes. So I felt as if I was in a kind of dream.’

Ten days after the disaster, Ono, his wife and his widowed mother drove over the mountains to see for themselves. They left in the morning in good spirits, stopped on the way to go shopping, and reached the coast in time for lunch. For most of the journey, the scene was familiar: brown rice fields, villages of wood and tile, bridges over wide slow rivers. Once they had climbed into the hills, they passed more and more emergency vehicles, not only those of the police and fire services, but military trucks of the Japan Self-Defence Forces. As the road descended towards the coast, their jaunty mood began to evaporate. Suddenly, before they understood where they were, they had entered the tsunami zone.

There was no advance warning, no marginal area of incremental damage. The wave had come in with full force, spent itself and stopped at a point as clearly defined as the reach of a high tide. Above it, nothing had been touched; below it, everything was changed.

No still photograph was capable of describing it. Even television images failed to encompass the panoramic quality of the disaster, the sense within the plain of destruction, of being surrounded by it on all sides. In describing the landscapes of war, we often speak of ‘total’ devastation. But even the most intense aerial bombing leaves walls and foundations of burned-out buildings, as well as parks and woods, roads and tracks, fields and cemeteries. The tsunami spared nothing, and achieved feats of surreal juxtaposition that no mere explosion could match. It plucked forests up by their roots and scattered them miles inland. It peeled the macadam off the roads and cast it hither and thither in buckled ribbons. It stripped houses to their foundations, and lifted cars, lorries, ships and corpses onto the tops of tall buildings.

At this point in Ono’s narrative, he became reluctant to describe in detail what he did or where he went. ‘I saw the rubble, I saw the sea,’ he said. ‘I saw buildings damaged by the tsunami. It wasn’t just the things themselves, but the atmosphere. It was a place I used to go so often. It was such a shock to see it. And all the police and soldiers there. It’s difficult to describe. It felt dangerous. My first feeling was that this is terrible. My next thought was: “Is it real?”’

Ono, his wife and his mother sat down for dinner as usual that evening. He remembered that he drank two small cans of beer with the meal. Afterwards, and for no obvious reason, he began calling friends on his mobile phone. ‘I’d just ring and say, “Hi, how are you?” – that kind of thing,’ he told me. ‘It wasn’t that I had much to say. I don’t know why, but I was starting to feel very lonely.’

His wife had already left the house when he woke the next morning. Ono had no particular work of his own, and passed an idle day at home. His mother bustled in and out, but she seemed mysteriously upset, even angry. When his wife got back from her office, she was similarly tense. ‘Is something wrong?’ Ono asked.

‘I’m divorcing you!’ she replied.

‘Divorce? But why? Why?’

And so his wife and mother described the events of the night before, after the round of needy phone calls. How he had jumped down on all fours and begun licking the tatami mats and futon, and squirmed on them like a beast. How at first they had nervously laughed at his tomfoolery, but then been silenced when he began snarling: ‘You must die. You must die. Everyone must die. Everything must die and be lost.’ In front of the house was an unsown field, and Ono had run out into it and rolled over and over in the mud, as if he was being tumbled by a wave, shouting: ‘There, over there! They’re all over there – look!’ Then he had stood up and walked out into the field, calling, ‘I’m coming to you. I’m coming over to that side,’ before his wife physically wrestled him back into the house. The writhing and bellowing went on all night until, around five in the morning, Ono cried out, ‘There’s something on top of me,’ collapsed, and fell asleep.

‘My wife and my mother were so anxious and upset,’ he said. ‘Of course I told them how sorry I was. But I had no memory of what I did or why.’

It went on for three nights. The next evening, as darkness fell, he saw figures walking past the house: parents and children, a group of young friends, a grandfather and a child. ‘They were covered in mud,’ he said. ‘They were no more than twenty feet away, and they stared at me, but I wasn’t afraid. I just thought, “Why are they in those muddy things? Why don’t they change their clothes? Perhaps their washing machine’s broken.” They were like people I might have known once, or seen before somewhere. The scene was flickering, like a film. But I felt perfectly normal, and I thought that they were just ordinary people.’

The next day, Ono was lethargic and inert. At night, he would lie down, sleep heavily for ten minutes, then wake up as lively and refreshed as if eight hours had passed. He staggered when he walked, glared at his wife and mother and even waved a knife. ‘Drop dead!’ he would snarl. ‘Everyone else is dead, so die!’

After three days of pleading by his family, he went to Reverend Kaneda at the temple. ‘His eyes were dull,’ Kaneda said. ‘Like a person with depression after taking their medication. I knew at a glance that something was wrong.’ Ono recounted the visit to the coast, and his wife and mother described his behaviour in the days since. ‘The Reverend was looking hard at me as I spoke,’ Ono said, ‘and in part of my mind I was saying, “Don’t look at me like that, you bastard. I hate your guts! Why are you looking at me?”’

Kaneda took Ono by the hand and led him into the main hall of the temple. ‘He told me to sit down. I was not myself. I still remember that strong feeling of resistance. But part of me was also relieved – I wanted to be helped, and to believe in the priest. The part of me that was still me wanted to be saved.’

Kaneda beat the temple drum as he chanted the Heart Sutra:

There are no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue,
no body, mind; no colour, sound, or smell;
no taste, no touch, no thing; no realm of sight,
no realm of thoughts; no ignorance, no end
to ignorance; no old age and no death;
no end to age and death; no suffering,
nor any cause of suffering, nor end
to suffering, no path, no wisdom and no fulfilment.

Ono’s wife told him that he pressed his hands together in prayer and that as the priest’s recitation continued, they rose high above his head as if being pulled from above. The priest splashed him with holy water, and then suddenly he returned to his senses and found himself with wet hair and shirt, filled with a sensation of tranquillity and release. ‘My head was light,’ he said. ‘In a moment, the thing that had been there had gone. I felt fine physically, but my nose was blocked, as if I’d come down with a heavy cold.’

Kaneda spoke to him sternly; they both understood what had happened. ‘Ono told me that he’d walked along the beach in that devastated area, eating an ice cream,’ the priest said. ‘He even put up a sign in the car in the windscreen saying ‘disaster relief’, so that no one would stop him. He went there flippantly, without giving it any thought at all. I told him: “You fool. If you go to a place where many people have died, you must go with a feeling of respect. That’s common sense. You have suffered a kind of punishment for what you did. Something got hold of you, perhaps the dead who cannot accept yet that they are dead. They have been trying to express their regret and their resentment through you.”’ Kaneda smiled as he remembered it. ‘Mr Bean!’ he said. ‘He’s so innocent and open. That’s another reason they were able to possess him.’

Ono recognised all this, and more. It wasn’t just the spirits of men and women that had possessed him, he saw now, but also animals – cats and dogs and other beasts which had drowned with their masters.

He thanked the priest, and drove home. His nose was streaming as if with catarrh, but what came out was not mucus, but a bright pink jelly like nothing he had seen before.

(…)

Bitter Lake

A new, 'experimental' film by Adam Curtis
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Adam Curtis is a leading film essayist. His new film, Bitter Lake, is pretty different from his previous, more poetic, less narrative. Just watch it. If you need more convincing, here’s some blurb: 

Politicians used to have the confidence to tell us stories that made sense of the chaos of world events. But now there are no big stories and politicians react randomly to every new crisis – leaving us bewildered and disorientated.

Bitter Lake is a new, adventurous and epic film by Adam Curtis that explains why the big stories that politicians tell us have become so simplified that we can’t really see the world any longer.

The narrative goes all over the world, America, Britain, Russia and Saudi Arabia – but the country at the heart of it is Afghanistan. Because Afghanistan is the place that has confronted our politicians with the terrible truth – that they cannot understand what is going on any longer.

The film reveals the forces that over the past thirty years rose up and undermined the confidence of politics to understand the world. And it shows the strange, dark role that Saudi Arabia has played in this.

But Bitter Lake is also experimental. Curtis has taken the unedited rushes of everything that the BBC has ever shot in Afghanistan – and used them in new and radical ways.

He has tried to build a different and more emotional way of depicting what really happened in Afghanistan. A counterpoint to the thin, narrow and increasingly destructive stories told by those in power today.

Fitz Carraldo Editions