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Archive for the tag “Giuseppe Garibaldi”

What I Read in 2016: 100 Books

In spite of the seemingly endless bad news that pounded us into submission this year, one great personal satisfaction for me is that I enjoyed by far the best and most inspired year of reading of my life, in terms of quality and quantity. This is the third edition of my project to catalogue and publish my annual reading list. You can see the 2014 list here and the 2015 list here. An unforeseen benefit of this project is that my reading has become more focused, more planned, and more thoughtful. I would recommend to everyone to try keeping a reading list with notes and see if it makes a positive difference of any kind. This year’s reading was heavy on post-war and contemporary Anglophone literature, including plenty of Booker Prize candidates and the like; also, I continued deeper into African and African-American literature that I started exploring last year; also, classic French literature (after which, I can say that all in all I prefer the Russians). Not included on the list are a handful of academic works regarding ESL teaching for my ongoing Cambridge Delta diploma. Without further ado, here are the 100 (or so) books I read this year, nearly all of which I greatly enjoyed, and many of which were truly outstanding:

Full-Length Books (Paper or Ebook)

1. Lucky Jim—Kingsley Amis

2. A House for Mr Biswas—V.S. Naipaul
3. In a Free State—V.S. Naipaul
4. A Bend in the River—V.S. Naipaul
5. Age of Iron—J.M. Coetzee

The last of these is just as great as his Waiting for the Barbarians or Disgrace, and should be more acknowledged. Between Naipaul and Coetzee, the latter is more compelling to me.

6. Mountolive—Lawrence Durrell
7. Clea—Lawrence Durrell

I finished these last two novels of the Alexandria Quartet after reading one book each of the last two years. This work is absolutely magnificent writing and a hugely underrated classic.

8. Midnight’s Children—Salman Rushdie
9. The Siege of Krishnapur—J.G. Farrell

These two complement each other nicely; the latter should be more well-known.

10. Memoirs—Giuseppe Garibaldi (with Alexandre Dumas)
11. Autobiography—Giuseppe Garibaldi
12. Garibaldi and the Defense of Rome—George Trevelyan
13. Garibaldi: A Life in Brief—Denis Mack Smith
14. Cavour—Denis Mack Smith
15. Mazzini—Denis Mack Smith

All of these historical and biographical books focus on the Italian Risorgimento as part of ongoing research for my own writing project.

16. The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919—Mark Thompson

I reviewed this book here.

17. Billy Budd—Herman Melville

18. In Patagonia—Bruce Chatwin

19. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind—Yuval Noah Harari
20. Countdown: Our Last Best Hope for a Future on Earth?—Alan Weisman

I reviewed these two books here.

21. The General in his Labyrinth—Gabriel Garcia Márquez
22. Autumn of the Patriarch—Gabriel Garcia Márquez
23. Pedro Páramo—Juan Rulfo

24. Why Does the World Exist—Jim Holt
25. What We Cannot Know: Explorations at the Edge of Knowledge—Marcus du Sautoy

I reviewed these two books here.

26. The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn—Nathaniel Philbrick
27. Why Read Moby-Dick?— Nathaniel Philbrick
28. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee—Dee Brown
29. Crazy Horse: The Strange Man of the Oglalas—Mari Sandoz

I discussed these books in my essay Crazy Horse and the Legacy of the American Indian Genocide

30. The Social Conquest of Earth—E.O. Wilson
31. The Meaning of Human Existence—E.O. Wilson

I reviewed these two books here.

32. Stoning the Devil—Garry Craig Powell

This is a fantastic “novel in stories” set in United Arab Emirates. Very moving and memorable, and a unique piece of work.

33. The Road Ahead—Adrian Bonenberger, Brian Castner (editors)

This is a collection of 24 short stories set around the Afghanistan and Iraq wars by veteran writers. I am the author of one of the stories, “Hadji Khan.”

34. Green on Blue—Elliot Ackerman

Incredible and powerful novel set during the ongoing Afghanistan war (where I also spent two years) by one of the authors in The Road Ahead (above).

35. Society Ludvika: Separatists of Smith, Sorcery, and Sea—Hugo Hennegau

This is a debut poetry collection, self-published by one of my friends (using a nom de plume). I am highly unqualified to comment on poetry, but this has to be one of the most original, sophisticated, and enigmatic works in recent years.

36. How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question—Sarah Bakewell
37. How Proust can Change Your Life—Alain de Botton

Two similarly fascinating books discussing the lives of works of two of the greatest French writers. Related to my essay Philosophy as the Art of Dying.

38. The Remains of the Day—Kazuo Ishiguro
39. An Artist of the Floating World—Kazuo Ishiguro
40. Never Let Me Go—Kazuo Ishiguro
41. The Buried Giant—Kazuo Ishiguro
42. The Unconsoled—Kazuo Ishiguro
43. When We Were Orphans—Kazuo Ishiguro
44. Nocturnes—Kazuo Ishiguro

I read basically everything by this writer in one go. I will say more about these in a future review, but he is well-worth reading.

45. Snow Country—Yasunari Kawabata

46. The Sense of an Ending—Julian Barnes

Incredibly crisp style.

47. Flaubert’s Parrot—Julian Barnes
48. The End of the Affair—Graham Greene

After reading The Heart of the Matter last year, I happened to read this directly after Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending (above) and noticed that the plots were very similar.

49. Money—Martin Amis

I actually did not enjoy this book very much, and will be slow to read more from this writer. It is surely a useful a relevant book to keep in mind during the upcoming Trump administration (readers will probably understand why, as far as it is thematically related to American Psycho).

50. Amsterdam—Ian McEwan
51. Atonement—Ian McEwan
52. Saturday—Ian McEwan
53. On Chesil Beach—Ian McEwan
54. The Child in Time—Ian McEwan

Another very talented contemporary British writer that I leaped into all in one go. Atonement will surely be a classic, and Saturday was also excellent.

55. The Sellout—Paul Beatty

I reviewed this book here.

56. The African Svelte—Daniel Menaker

Funny little book by the former The New Yorker editor discussing how interesting misspelled words can be in subtle (almost Freudian) ways.

57. The Vegetarian—Han Kang

Unique and haunting book that lingers in one’s mind.

58. Love—Toni Morrison

This novel is fantastic, and should be as celebrated as her Song of Solomon.

59. The Thing Around Your Neck—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A collection of short stories all involving women living in Nigeria or America. Not a single average story in the book, and many of them are excellent. I previously reviewed her novels here.

60. Arrow of God—Chinua Achebe

His third novel which I would controversially suggest is as good or even better than Things Fall Apart. The dialogue and abundance of Igbo proverbs are wonderful.

61. Oryx and Crake—Margaret Atwood

Speculative apocalyptic tale of humanity’s downfall from a combination of corporate greed, climate change, and genetic engineering; full of very creative and ironic details. I will finish the last two books of this trilogy next year.

62. Chronicles—Bob Dylan

Fascinating partial, non-chronological autobiography of a singular artist, whom I praised after the Nobel award here.

63. Open City—Teju Cole

Profound and philosophical novel of a psychiatrist walking around Manhattan and Brussels, beautifully written. One of my favorite books of the year.

64. The Fishermen—Chigozie Obioma

Moving story of four brothers in a Nigerian village.

65. The Underground Railroad—Colson Whitehead

This inventive and cathartic novel is absolutely required reading for Americans. Here is a great review of the book in The New Yorker.

Audio Books

Starting last year I changed jobs and house and now I drive much more than ever. These are the books I listened to during my commuting and walking. Librivox.org is the main website I got them from. (If anyone thinks audiobooks are somehow “cheating”, this article explains the science showing that listening to books is just as effective as reading.)

66. Of Human Bondage—W. Somerset Maugham
67. The Moon and Sixpence—W. Somerset Maugham
68. Eugenie Grandet—Honoré de Balzac
69. Père Goriot— Honoré de Balzac
70. The Peasant Story of Napoleon— Honoré de Balzac
71. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—James Joyce
72. A Sportsman’s Sketches—Ivan Turgenev
73. Sevastopol Sketches—Leo Tolstoy
74. The Cossacks—Leo Tolstoy
75. Sons and Lovers—D.H. Lawrence
76. The Rainbow—D.H. Lawrence
77. Women in Love—D.H. Lawrence
78. Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed)—Alessandro Manzoni
79. Don Quixote, Part One—Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
80. Madame Bovary—Gustave Flaubert
81. Salammbô—Gustave Flaubert
82. Three Short Tales—Gustave Flaubert
83. The Education of Henry Adams—Henry Adams
84. Confessions—J.J. Rousseau
85. The Social Contract—J.J. Rousseau
86. Candide—Voltaire
87. Zadig—Voltaire
88. The Sincere Huron—Voltaire
89. Lord Jim—Joseph Conrad
90. The Secret Sharer—Joseph Conrad
91. The Secret Agent—Joseph Conrad
92. Kim—Rudyard Kipling
93. The Man who Would Be King—Rudyard Kipling
94. The Good Soldier—Ford Madox Ford
95. Penguin Island—Anatole France
96. The Hunchback of Notre Dame—Victor Hugo
97. Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe—George Eliot
98. Ball of Fat—Guy de Maupassant

Short Stories

99. The Old Chief Mshlanga—Doris Lessing
100. Zaabalawi—Naguib Mahfouz
101. L’Anguille—Jon Trobaugh
102. Yellow Woman—Leslie Marmom Silko
103. The Rooftop Dwellers—Anita Desai
104. Stories—Lucian of Samosata

Some of his assorted stories are the only things this year that were rereadings for me. My favorite writer from the Greco-Roman world.

105. Stories—Anton Chekhov

For the third year in a row, I gradually worked my way through more of his stories, which are endless (in a good way).

Books Partially Read, Unfinished or Abandoned

106. The Old Devils—Kingsley Amis
107. The Satanic Verses—Salman Rushdie
108. The Museum of Innocence—Orhan Pamuk
109. The Matisse Stories—A.S. Byatt
110. The Sense of an Ending—Frank Kermode

Famous work of literary criticism, obviously picked up after Barnes’ novel named for it.

111. The Wings of the Dove—Henry James

This is the only one from this final section that I will not come back to. I am actually finished with James for the foreseeable future, if not a whole lifetime.

Giuseppe Garibaldi: Quintessential Hero

Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) is celebrated in virtually every city and village in Italy in the form of street names, piazzas, and occasional statues. He is given these same honors across dozens of European and American capitals as well. The reason is clear: Garibaldi was probably the most wholly admirable figure that Europe has produced in modern history.  Similarly to George Washington in America (who crossed “the Delaware” and did something involving a cherry tree), he is perhaps known best in Italy for two things: for leading the 1000 ‘Red-Shirts’ into Sicily, and for being the namesake of a ridiculous nursery rhyme (“Garibaldi fu ferito, fu ferito in ad una gamba, Garibaldi che comanda, che comanda il battaglion”: Garibaldi was wounded, he was wounded in the leg, Garibaldi that commanded, that commanded the Battalion). Maybe his name is so familiar here that it loses value by its very ubiquity. In my town of Vicenza, his statue proudly stands in Piazza Castello, where it mostly serves as an unappreciated meeting places for hordes of too-idle teenagers to smoke and listen to annoying music on low quality mobile devices; some of them also saw fit to decorate it with the same reprehensible graffiti that seems to find its way onto every building or solid structure in the country, however ancient or otherwise aesthetically-pleasing. I intend to describe exactly why Garibaldi should remain in all of our collective memories as the inspiring character that he was, rather than descending to the level of colorless platitude he is in danger of becoming.

Garibaldi ‘dei Graffiti’, Vicenza

Garibaldi was born in Nice, part of the French Empire at the time, but which became, in 1814 at the Congress of Vienna, the property of Sardinian king Vittorio Emmanuele I. Young Garibaldi, the son of merchants, became a merchant marine captain himself in 1832, which led him around Europe. In his travels, he met a follower of Mazzini, the founder of the liberal ‘Young Italy’ movement. Garibaldi soon became enamored of the idea of Italian unification, and he joined the revolutionary Carbonari group in 1833. This led to a death warrant against him by the extremely short-sighted Genoese regime, and Garibaldi fled to South America.

It is in the Uruguayan Civil War that he came to earn his later appellation, “the Hero of Two Worlds.” He married a Brazilian horsewoman named Anita, from whom he learned riding skills and became involved in the gaucho culture–he would wear his trademark red shirt, poncho, and sombrero the rest of his life. He joined the side of the Uruguayan Colorados, choosing to fight against the conservative forces of the nefarious Argentine strongman Juan Manuel de Rosas and his lackey, Manuel Oribe, the president of Uruguay. [Tangent: Jorge Luis Borges, ever aware of Argentina’s troubled history, mentions Rosas in several of his stories. In “A Dialog Between Dead Men”, he is mocked for being a coward in the face of defeat by his nemesis, General Quiroga; “Pedro Salvadores” tells of a man who stayed in his basement for 10 years to avoid the terrors and tortures of Rosas’ rule; and he offered his only exceptions for political assassinations by listing the examples of John Felton, Charlotte Corday, and the well-known words of Rivera Indarte (“It is a holy deed to kill Rosas”).] Garibaldi, with the “Italian Legion” and navy that he raised, dealt several defeats to the conservative forces, and defended Montevideo from a siege by Oribe. The European wave of revolution in the year 1848, however, caused Garibaldi to return to his homeland to aid in Italian uprisings.

After his services were rejected by the Piedmontese court in Sardinia, Garibaldi went to Milan to participate in the ongoing war of liberation against the Austrians. He won two minor victories there, before moving south to Rome to assist the newly established Republican government that had taken over the Papal States. The French empire of Napoleon III came to the pope’s defense. Garibaldi defeated a numerically superior French force, and defended Rome for months against the French reinforcements. Finally outnumbered, Garibaldi chose to preserve his remaining forces to continue the fight from the mountains, saying “Dovunque saremo, colà sarà Roma” (Wherever we may be, there will be Rome). The Papal Authority was reestablished in Rome, so Garibaldi decided to travel north to aid Venice in their resistance against an Austrian siege. He was left with a band of only a few hundred men, seeking to avoid capture by the Austrian, French, Spanish, and Neopolitan armies in the peninsula. At this point, Anita (carrying their fifth child) died, and the Piedmontese regime forced Garibaldi to leave Italy and re-emigrate.

He arrived in the United States in 1850, where he worked odd jobs in New York for a year. Unsatisfied, he moved down into Central America and Peru, and eventually took control of a merchant ship that he would use to carry goods to China, the Phillipines, Australia, back to Peru, around Cape Horn to New York, and to England. In 1854 he returned to Italy and bought half of the island of Caprera, north of Sardinia. He spent the next 5 years as a farmer there, improving the agricultural yield of the island. The year 1859 saw the opening of the next Italian War of Independence, and Garibaldi was immediately appointed as a General by the Piedmontese. He won victories over the Austrians in Lombardy with his newly formed ‘Hunters of the Alps’ unit. By this time, he had effectively abandoned his own liberal Republican ideals, inspired by Mazzini, in favor of supporting the monarchy of Piedmont for the greater good of defeating the Pope and unifying Italy. In 1860, Garibaldi took 1000 northern volunteers by ship to Sicily, where revolts had broken out against the Neapolitan regime. He won victories in Palermo and Messina within two months, and declared himself the dictator of Sicily in the name of Vittorio Emanuele II, the would-be king of Unified Italy. He crossed to the mainland with British naval support, and marched north to Naples, where he occupied the empty capital. The troops of Naples were outside the city, and in the ensuing battle, Garibaldi defeated them with help from the Piedmontese army arriving from the north. At this point, Garibaldi met with Vittorio Emanuele II at Teolo, and decided to give all of his southern conquests to the northern king. He went into retirement at Caprera, refusing all awards and honors.

Retirement did not last long, however, as Garibaldi assembled volunteers from around Europe to help complete the unification of Italy, especially Venice (from the Austrians) and Rome (where the Pope was protected by the French). In the American Civil War, Garibaldi deeply wanted to help the Union cause, and offered President Lincoln his services. He would only go on the condition that he be made the Commander in Chief, and that the explicit goal of the war was for the abolition of slavery. When Lincoln finally issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Garibaldi was already committed to the liberation of Rome, but sent Lincoln a letter praising him for freeing the slaves.

The fight against Rome saw Garibaldi traveling back to Sicily, trying to maneuver into position to defeat the Pope. The new Italian Kingdom did not approve of his independent actions, however, and sent its own army to intercept him. At Aspromonte, Garibaldi ordered his troops not to fire against fellow Italians, and he was taken prisoner and forced back to his island. He was already a living legend by now, and he had the sympathy of Europeans everywhere.  In 1864, he traveled to London and was greeted enthusiastically, and he began to plan for campaigns of liberation in countries across Europe. His next military action began in 1866, when he took up arms against the Austrians to bring Venice to its rightful place within the new Italian state. He reconstituted his Hunters of the Alps unit and marched with his largest army ever of 40,000 troops into the Trentino, where he won an initial victory. Other Italian forces on the sea and the plains made no progress, however, and Garibaldi was ordered to stop his successful advance to seize Trento. He replied with one word: “Obbedisco” (I obey). Due to Austrian losses against the Prussians in the north, Venice was ceded to Italy in any case. Only one goal remained– the city-state of Rome.

Garibaldi again moved against the wishes of the hesitant monarchy to attack the Papal States in Rome. His small force was defeated, he was wounded in the leg, and again taken prisoner and sent back to his island. In 1870, the Franco-Prussian war provided the opportunity to render his services once more in the name of liberal republicanism. After Napolean III’s regime collapsed and a French republic was established, Garibaldi hastily volunteered to help the same troops he had so recently fought against. His ‘Army of the Vosges’ in France was never defeated by the Prussians. In later life, he was elected to the Italian parliament, made huge land reclamation efforts in the swampy areas around Rome (a project which was completed by Mussolini), strongly advocated women’s rights, abolition of papal property, and democratic reforms. He died in 1882 at the age of 74 and was buried at his island of Caprera.

Garibaldi, who was also the author of three novels and two autobiographies, remained devoted his entire life to the progressive ideals of freedom for all, liberation from oppression, self-autonomy, and equal and democratic rights. He was a man of remarkable action and unswerving conviction. We would be well-served to remember such a life, and what he fought for.

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of Italian Unification, 1861-2011

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