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A Thousands Shards of Glass


The other face of the US of A
KS NARAYANAN | Issue Dated: March 30, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : A Thousands Shards of Glass | Michael Katakis | George W Bush | The United States of America | British library |

The United States of America has earned many sobriquets over the decades – Uncle Sam, global cop, superpower – and for good reason. For more than a century now, America has been dominant in nearly every field. However it is losing its steam, as it is imprisoned now by implacable ideologies that strangle reason and compassion.

This is the central theme of Michael Katakis, the Paris-based American and a veteran writer, in his latest book, A Thousands Shards of Glass. The theme has been explored by many in the past and in recent years. Unlike many others, Katakis has explored the argument by weaving through personal events and global perspectives.

Katakis is an estate manager of Ernest Hemingway and an ambassador for the British library and has travelled extensively throughout China, India, West Africa, Cuba, Hungary, Morocco, Turkey, the US, Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Italy, Greece, England, France and Spain.

Also the book is a cautionary tale for those around the world that romanticize and idealize an America that never was; and, crucially, provides a glimpse beyond the myth of a country whose best days could still lie ahead.

Katakis begins the book by observing that the real America is a place obsessed with religion but not ethics, with law, not justice. “For over a half century, America has been a store disguised as a country,” he says.

“It is neither the democracy nor the capitalist society touted by corporations, politicians and the media, who perform their own kabuki dance of pretend objectivity when in reality they’re another cog in the corporate state, dependent on its largesse. What is most disturbing, however, is the wilful indifference and arrogance that has now made many Americans comfortable with injustice, both at home and abroad,” he says.

Commenting further on its decline, Katakis refers the US as the ‘United States of Salesmen’ where it “matters little what is in one’s heart”.

Questioning the way of life in the US, he says it is the “verbal, animated gestures of patriotism and faith, no matter how insincere, which are measure of one’s Americanness today”.

He says “America’s capacity for self-delusion is equalled only by its hypocrisy, which for decades has allowed us, without a hint of irony, to lecture other nations on human rights while torturing people in our custody.

“America has long spoken of democratic values while working tirelessly during the 20th century and before to thwart democratic movements and elected governments that have not coincided with our national interests, which has often meant nothing more than forcible corporate access to other people’s property.”

To take the theme forward, Katakis has focussed on his own experiences at a purely personal level.

The essay ‘Dying the American Way’ is about the medical business in the US and how his late wife Kris L Hardin, a reputed anthropologist, died after a five-year battle with brain cancer. Here he contends that the American people themselves are to blame for what the country has become and implores them to change course and become something more humane and conscious, something more than a store in disguise.

“The American medical business is best described as a giant machine with a million moving parts. Each one of those million parts is owned by a different entity, most of whom do not communicate with the other because they are in competition and thus adversarial,” he writes.

He says “promises made prior to an illness quickly evaporate at the most desperate of times to reveal a labyrinth of conditions, ever-changing rules and small print that not only fails to soothe or elucidate but terrifies instead.”

In all this, Katakis has been inspired by Eugene Luther Gore Vidal, an American writer known for his essays, novels, screenplays, and Broadway plays. Smitten by witty aphorism of this public intellectual, the author has dedicated an essay in the book “Thanks for the Dance, Mr. Vidal”.

“As my life went on, I was determined that I would attempt to live a life of learning and action and would take Vidal’s example and try to be brave with my words,” observes Katakis who was in touch with Vidal first through letters and then over phone.

He also deeply regrets that he failed to meet Vidal in person. This book also has an essay on increasing gun violence and the gun culture in the US that continues to kill and maim thousands of men, women and children, besides a text of  a letter Katakis wrote to President George W Bush on December 1, 2010, expressing his disappointment over unfolding of events after 9/11.

The book is an eye-opener for all those who refuse to accept that every picture has a flip side which might be truer than the more visible side.

Author: Michael Katakis
Edition: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-47113-143-1
Pages: 122
Price: Rs 399
Publisher: Simon Schuster

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017