Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Time for Shadows: Book Review

I've read all of T.J. Banks' books. What can I say... I'm a fan. It all started with her time-travel novel, Souleiado (I was skeptical, because I don't usually read this sort of books), but I was also hooked. Then Houdini followed, and Catsong. A Time for Shadows, though, is Banks at her best. Here is a review I couldn't stop writing for Shadows.

As a preview--Shadows is a timeless story of war and peace, of despair and shredded dreams, and also of hope, love, and dreams come true. It takes an unusual look at the war, in general, while painting the devastation happening behind the front lines of the Greatest War of all--World War I.

I hope will inspire you as much as it inspired me.

Thanks for visiting,

A Time for Shadows
by T. J. Banks
Reviewed by Alina Oswald

“All is fair in love and war.” Moving beyond the meaning of this saying, the war itself is unfair, as are the loss of life, the suffering and devastation it leaves behind. While they give the war a timeless perspective, it is not too often that they are immortalized in related works of art for future generations. 

Instead, as an audience learning or witnessing the war as portrayed in various forms of art, we’ve learnt to expect smiling soldiers going off to fight terrifying battles and winning against all odds. What we, the audience, seldom get to watch or read about are the raw reality of war and, sometimes, the irreversible way it changes those who’ve witnessed war atrocities first hand. The war--any war--doesn’t only change the lives of soldiers, but also of those forced to live the horror of war while trying to give hope and mend the broken bodies and souls of soldiers returning from the battlefield. For these caregivers--family, friends or nurses and doctors--for them, the aftermath of war becomes a real battlefield.

All wars have their battlefields, more or less known. Today, as the last survivors of the greatest war of all are moving on beyond this life, it is vital to use art as a means of capturing a realistic image of World War I. It is this particular aspect of the Great War that T. J. Bank immortalizes so vividly in her latest novel, A Time for Shadows, through a timeless story of life and death, peace and war, and also hope, a story that is passed on from one generation to another, from Iris--a caregiver, a nurse who’s experienced war and love while mending the broken bodies and souls of soldiers returning from the battlefield--and Dawn--a young writer, and also Iris’ caregiver, with a battle taking place within herself.

In A Time for Shadows the author captures the entangled, complex story of war--and, by extension, of any individuals put in extreme, desperate situations--while painting with words. And while doing so, with each word, with each stroke, giving a new nuance to the despair, the love, and also the inner strength that come to life in each one of the characters, thus making us, the readers, a part of their stories of survival.

Indeed, A Time for Shadows is firstly a multi-layered story of survival: the memories of war live on as they’re passed on from one generation to another, from Iris to Dawn, ultimately becoming timeless as Dawn, the writer, puts them down on paper; the love that survives the war and death itself, becoming timeless; also hope survives through the shadows, the ghosts, of loved ones who’re always around, always protecting, waiting on the other side of the fine line between Life and the Great Beyond. While helping Dawn find the much needed inner peace, hope also lives on through the writer’s work, thus continuing to use the story of Great War to give inner strength to future generations.

As audience, we identify with Iris, Dawn and the other characters in A Time for Shadows. Their stories make us more aware of our own guardian shadows, thus allowing us to relive cherished memories of those who, once, trusted us with their own stories of peace and war, of life and death,  with their stories of hope and inner strength.

Reflections on a Lifetime of Living with AIDS (Excerpt from my book, Journeys Through Darkness)

I'd like to share with you a few reflections on living with HIV/AIDS of a long-term survivor, a true warrior, an award-winning visual artist who has lost most of his sight to AIDS-related retinitis. This is an excerpt from the last chapter of my book, Journeys Through Darkness. The chapter is called "Arrival of the Angel," a titled inspired by one of Kurt Weston's images, one that reminds me of Angels in America.

Hope you enjoy the read. As always, thanks for stopping by.

Excerpt from "Arrival of the Angel," Chapter Nine of Journeys Through Darkness. Copyright Alina Oswald. All Rights Reserved. 

Weston’s AIDS diagnosis has re-prioritized his life, reducing it to pure survival. His career took second priority, as did other aspects of his existence. What remained was his intrinsic desire to survive, which demanded his full and undivided attention.
It also required Weston to make a shift in consciousness, to realize that his life had to go into survival mode. It hasn’t been easy to change his mindset, to actually realize the importance of switching priorities from the safety of a regular day job to the insecurities of living without a job and with a terminal disease. In the end, his survival instinct won and allowed him to let go of the life he knew and to go out on disability and, with that, into a life full of insecurities and unknowns.
 Once he has begun nurturing his physical and spiritual being, he has also started tapping into all sorts of metaphysical philosophies that later influenced his artwork. After a while, his health became stable enough to allow him to resume his life from where he’d left off when AIDS had hit. Only first, he had to relearn how to live with his disease and, a few years later, with his visual loss.
Today, the artist talks about his hopes for the future, for his art and life. He believes that stem-cell research will be an integral part of finding a cure for AIDS, one that will come from some type of genetic therapy. Until then, he reminds, there is so much work to be done.
Kurt Weston also believes in the resurrection of a person’s personal and professional life. Surviving and living with his AIDS represent only one part of the artist’s own resurrection. By becoming a visual artist, he also resurrected his artistic career.
Weston’s artwork, in particular his AIDS-inspired body of work, has a lot of iconic imagery and references to mythology. It is also rich in symbolisms. Inspired by the play Angels in America, Prophet Angel expresses the prophecy of AIDS epidemic. In the photograph, the angel is holding a crucifix, which symbolizes his modern crucifixion, because the person in the photograph is HIV positive himself. While angels are associated with the resurrection and ascension of the Christ, Weston’s angel professes the resurrection of AIDS and, by extension, of any other terminal illness.
“I think that when you’re living with a terminal illness you really are very conscious that the physical reality is not the only reality,” the photographer comments. While finding himself so often on the brink of death, Weston became very conscious of the multi-dimensional reality—from physical to metaphysical—surrounding him. When he started to work with his chi, while at SWAN, he also learned that his life energy usually extends beyond the physical realm. Years later, this chi—his life energy—started to inspire his artwork. 
Also, while making hospital visits to see people who were dying and who were also very spiritual—like the yoga teacher and tai-chi instructor—Kurt learned that they, too, were experiencing life on multiple dimensions. They were talking the language of people who understood life as a greater, more in-depth process, and perceived life on a deeper level. These people have influenced Kurt’s life and artwork like his Blind Vision series of self-portraits, meant to be somehow abstract and quite figurative, thus adding a metaphysical dimension to his journey through darkness.
“I am sort of there but not really there,” the photographer explains, talking about Blind Vision.  “I’m kinda half in physical state and half in metaphysical state. Not completely solidified.” The artist appears with his eyes closed, enveloped in blackness. The streaks running through the picture (the foam sprayed on the glass) simulate a stream of consciousness, portraying the artist’s metaphysical journey through eternal blackness. 
Nowadays, the artist continues using his life’s experience to create art that is dynamic, informing, and also transforming. Weston believes that art has that kind of power, to make a difference in people’s perception of life and its realities. “I want to continue making visual art that creates a consciousness shift when people look at it,” he says.
Weston also believes that dreams, like art, are necessary in life, as is the struggle to make them true and see them become real. Sometimes, even more important than their dreams is the life journeys people need to take in order to reach their dreams. Also important is the transformational process they go through while on their journeys, even if they may not always be able to actually fulfill their dreams.
It’s hard for anyone to predict the future, but Kurt Weston hopes for a bright one for his art and his life. Therefore, his dream is to continue to create art.
Sometimes, life’s goals change and so do individuals’ journeys through life. In that sense, Kurt Weston will always be searching for new ways of depicting his reality through his art and discovering new ways he has yet to explore. Kurt’s art is always evolving because, as the artist comments, “it’s not good for anybody to remain static.” For Kurt Weston, creating visual art will always be an ongoing, life-long process. It will continue to expand and change and show itself in different ways. Ultimately, it will remain inspirational and transforming."