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Critic Milo Miles

Critic Milo Miles reviews the reissue of The Explorer Series featuring music from around the world that was originally released from 1967 to 1984. The Explorer Series is now being re-released by region. The first is 13 CDs from Africa (on the Nonesuch label).

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Other segments from the episode on November 19, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 19, 2002: Interview with Al Gore and Tipper Gore; Review of Alice McDermott's new novel, "Child of My Heart;" Review of the reissue of the Explorer Music Series.

Transcript

DATE November 19, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Review: Alice McDermott's new novel, "Child of My Heart"
TERRY GROSS, host:

Novelist Alice McDermott won the National Book Award for her last novel,
"Charming Billy." In McDermott's new novel, "Child of My Heart," she turns
from the subject of adults acting like children to children pushed too soon
into some realities of adulthood that must be met with stoicism. Book critic
Maureen Corrigan has a review.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN:

(Technical difficulties) ...a chicken-egg question. Is it a natural act of
homage and chutzpah for contemporary American novelists to try to rewrite "The
Great Gatsby" or is the power of "Gatsby" so great that it just seeps into
and, in effect, rewrites so many contemporary American novels? But "Gatsby"
tributes, satires and updates actually began almost as soon as the novel was
published in 1925, when F. Scott Fitzgerald's good friend, Nathanael West,
started writing "The Day of the Locust," his own vicious version of the quest
for the American Dream embodied in a golden girl.

The latest literary doff of the hat to "Gatsby" comes from Alice McDermott,
whose lovely new novel, "Child of My Heart," resurrects a few of "Gatsby's"
charmed ingredients: a retrospective story bounded by the space of a single
summer that takes place out on the playgrounds of the fabulously rich on Long
Island. There's even a girl named Daisy, though she's more black and blue
than golden. These are just grace notes, not a conscious effort on
McDermott's part to replay the whole of "Gatsby." McDermott's novel goes off
in an altogether different direct, and of course, she's much less of a WASP
wannabe than Fitzgerald was, more upfront about her Irish Catholic
preoccupation with guilt, class consciousness and paradises lost through
all-too-human bungling.

The narrator of "Child of My Heart" is named Theresa, and she's looking back
on the summer of her 15th year, some time in the early 1960s. Theresa is the
only daughter of older parents. She's also beautiful. People tell her she's
a young Elizabeth Taylor or Jackie Kennedy. Consequently, a few years before
the novel opens, her parents decided to move out to the far eastern end of
Long Island to give Theresa the opportunity to meet rich boys. The quality,
though, that really distinguishes Theresa is that she's not nice in a smart
way. She's already sized up the world, her family and her own power,
especially over men.

Theresa works as a pet-tender and baby-sitter. She enchants her small charges
as well as some of their fathers. One of those lightly lecherous fathers is a
famous painter in his 70s--a spattering of Jackson Pollock and Pablo Picasso
here--whose wife has just deserted him and their toddler. Tagging along on
these baby-sitting jobs is Theresa's favorite cousin, Daisy, an anemic redhead
who's visiting for a few weeks to escape a cramped household of brothers and
sisters back in Queens.

On the first afternoon of Daisy's visit, Theresa spots purplish bruises on the
insteps of both of her cousin's feet. Those ominous bruises fade, but then
appear on other parts of Daisy's body. The two girls, shaman and acolyte,
enter into a silent complicity with the old goat of an artist to keep Daisy's
bruises to themselves and keep her vacation going. Salt water, St. Joseph's
aspirin and a cheap pair of Mary Janes covered with sparkles constitute the
cure regimen at Theresa's seaside clinic. Inevitably, however, nosy bodies,
sex and wayward children and dogs intrude, and pop! This magical moment out
of time and death disintegrates into memory.

"Child of My Heart" reads with the quick shift intensity of a short story. As
she has in her other novels, McDermott renders her characters in spare
sentences that instantly summon up whole lives. Consider this miniature
portrait of one of Theresa's wealthy employers: `Mrs. Richardson was one of
those blunt, loud, bangs-across-the-forehead women who seemed to believe that
everyone else must surely be as pleased with her as she was with herself for
being so no-nonsense and direct, and, as she saw it, egalitarian.'

But more than character or plot, this is a novel that's distinguished by mood,
by its elegiac longing for a vanished beloved who couldn't be saved. I know a
couple of prominent book critics have already weighed in negatively against
"Child of My Heart," saying it's not as compelling as McDermott's other
novels. I liked it a lot, but then, a novel told by a cynical Catholic girl
who can't forgive herself for being a cynical Catholic girl would be right up
my alley.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Child of My Heart," by Alice McDermott.

Coming up, the reissue of the Nonesuch Explorer Series of music from around
the world. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

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Review: Nonesuch Records reissues Explorer Series, starting with
African music
TERRY GROSS, host:

From 1967 to 1984, Nonesuch Records released a series of 92 albums of music
from around the world. The Explorer Series, as it was called, is now being
reissued by region, starting with 13 CDs from Africa. Critic Milo Miles takes
a look at the nature of musical exploration then and now.

(Soundbite of music)

MILO MILES:

When I was a teen-ager, every record store indicated that music from other
countries was unimportant. Foreign music albums had cruddy covers. They were
dusty and stuck in the back. The only people who bought them must have been
immigrants.

The Nonesuch Explorer Series changed all that. The covers were bright and
lively, with intriguing art and a look of something both hip and professional.
The terrific two-LP sampler could provide a first exposure to Indonesian
gamelan, Japanese wooden flute and African thumb piano. But the hard truth
was, a lot of the Explorer records were not much fun to listen to as whole
LPs. By the time the series ended in 1984, it seemed like a relic from the
world before world music.

The recent reissue of all 13 of the Explorer albums devoted to Africa puts the
series to the test of time, but the truth has not changed. You could learn
something from every album here, but records should offer joyful wisdom.
Those you listen to because they are good for you are records you don't listen
to much.

Now there's no question that tracks such as this one from East Africa
witchcraft and ceremonial music has the exciting ancient but avant-garde
effect that music crossing cultures sometimes does.

(Soundbite of music)

MILES: The CDs from the African series most suitable for a general audience
are the three devoted to the mbira, or thumb piano, music of the Shona people
in Zimbabwe. In fact, one of these reissues, "The Soul of Mbira," is a grand
classic of world music. Compelling to this day, it has punch, drive and
vitality that needs no translation. Back in 1973, "The Soul of Mbira" helped
prepare me for the marvelous electric protest songs of Thomas Mapfumo that
appeared in the United States 10 years later.

(Soundbite of music)

MILES: But I doubt Thomas Mapfumo, with his amplifiers and rock-soul
modernism, would find a place in the Nonesuch Explorer Series, and that's its
greatest limitation. There is precious little other than pure folk music or
classical traditions. It feels like the Explorer Series focused on villagers,
but left out the city kids, and, well, the obvious superstars. The only
example of pop music in the series is a pleasant but undistinguished highlight
band from Ghana.

(Soundbite of music)

MILES: It's a pity there isn't more pop, because great modernist masters of
African music were drawing huge crowds in their home countries when the
Explorer Series was recorded, and for the most part, they were no better
represented in the West than the traditional performers. Imagine
ground-breaking albums from King Sunny Ade, Franco, Doktor Nicol(ph) and even
the brilliant progressive folklorist Francis Bebey. Any of these could have
captivated Western music fans and sold well enough to expand the series as a
whole.

The Nonesuch Explorer Series was smart and visionary. If it had been just a
bit more far-seeing, it could now be promoted as prophecy, not nostalgia.

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Cambridge. He reviewed the reissue of the
Explorer Series on the Nonesuch label.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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