What We Are Reading Today: Robin by Dave Itzkoff

Updated 07 October 2019

What We Are Reading Today: Robin by Dave Itzkoff

From his rapid-fire stand-up comedy riffs to his breakout role in Mork & Mindy and his Academy Award-winning performance in Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams was a singularly innovative and beloved entertainer. He often came across as a man possessed, holding forth on culture and politics while mixing in personal revelations — all with mercurial, tongue-twisting intensity as he inhabited and shed one character after another with lightning speed.

But as Dave Itzkoff shows in this revelatory biography, Williams’s comic brilliance masked a deep well of conflicting emotions and self-doubt, which he drew upon in his comedy and in celebrated films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; The Fisher King; Aladdin; and Mrs. Doubtfire, where he showcased his limitless gift for improvisation to bring to life a wide range of characters, according to a review published on goodreads.com.

Itzkoff also shows how Williams struggled mightily with addiction and depression and with a debilitating condition at the end of his life that affected him in ways his fans never knew.


Mazen Maarouf brings magical realism to the darkness of war

‘Jokes for the Gunmen,’ on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize, has been translated into English. (Supplied)
Updated 23 October 2019

Mazen Maarouf brings magical realism to the darkness of war

  • ‘Jokes for the Gunmen,’ on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize, has been translated into English by Jonathan Wright and published by Granta Books.
  • It was published in Arabic by Beirut’s Riad El-Rayyes Books in 2015.

CHICAGO: From award-winning Palestinian-Icelandic writer, poet and journalist Mazen Maarouf comes a collection of short stories, “Jokes for the Gunmen,” now translated into English.

Unraveling sometimes fantastical and other times traumatic realities, the stories are mostly from the perspective of a child in a war zone in which life is about survival and how one’s perception of the world can be narrowed through limited circumstances.

Maarouf introduces his readers to narrators who mostly stay nameless, whose stories pick up in the middle of their lives, long after the bombs began to fall and life became about survival rather than living.

He unapologetically explores the depths of a child’s thinking as painful incidents occur and instability ensues in his characters’ lives.

He is unafraid to create uncomfortable situations, and often the accidental outcomes are the ones that seem to help life move forward.

Misunderstandings and misinterpretations often lead characters to their destinies, and in Maarouf’s collection, the only way to take the unforgiving realities of life is to turn them into a joke.

He explores elements of magical realism in his stories, such as when one character’s uncle, a self-proclaimed matador, dies three times in the same week, and one in which a son tells his mother fantastical stories about biscuits.

Dark humor encapsulates each unique story. Maarouf explores dreams, life, jokes, war, relationships, and the contrast between light and dark.

Each of his stories is embedded in a deep reality that cannot be shaken when it comes to war and its aftermath.

There is a harshness that overlays each incident, but one that pushes forward the notion that life must be lived through war.