Book and Film Reviews



The scope is wide ... anything of interest to Circlist readers is welcome here. Textbooks, novels, photobooks, documentary and fictional movies. All submissions are welcome but please note that we do need full information - author, publisher, date, pages, ISBN and price for books; director, producer, principal actors, studio and duration for movies. Send your reviews to editor@circlist.com.   So here we go ....

Der Schnitt (The Cut) by Lukas Stoermer
elbaol verlag Hamburg, 2011, 189 pages ISBN: 978-3-939771-05-0, price €14.95 (in German)

This novel is about a theme that one is reluctant to speak about: the circumcision of boys. And at the same time a great story is told. . .

Manuel is failing at school and needs to be sent to a boarding school. In his frustration, he feigns an abduction and takes off. But he does not get far. His bad conscience brings him in and he returns. This is followed by the first days at the boarding school. And this includes the health check. Poor Manuel is informed of the diagnosis "foreskin constriction"! He does not even know what will happen to him when he has to have a small surgery in the hospital: circumcision. When he wakes, everything is different. His foreskin was completely cut off. And Manuel suddenly feels that an important part of him is missing. From this day he feels different - somehow both not ashamed and ashamed. And this feeling will still have a meaning for him in many situations. In a captivating way, Manuel's life is told: from the special friendship to his new and soon best friend David. From the first erotic encounters with girls and also from human disappointments. . .

Review by "Dr. Sommer" from Bravo, the German teen magazine, translated by Dr. Google and the editor. You can read the original review here. The book carries the byline "Eine Ermutigung für Jungen, selbst über ihren Körper zu bestimmen! Denn eine Vorhaut ist keine Krankheit!" (An encouragement for boys to decide for themselves about their body! For a foreskin is not a disease!). Could one hope for an English translation?


The Cider House Rules by John Irving
Ballantine Books, 1999, 587 pages (first published by William Morrow, 1985) ISBN: 9780062235183

This is not a full-blown review of the book, but covers the passages relating to circumcision.

The first part of the story is set in a Maine state orphanage run by Dr. Wilbur Larch. Most of the children come from women who bear them but are unable or unwilling to keep them. The goal of the orphanage is to have them adopted. Dr. Larch also secretly does illegal but medically competent abortions for women who choose to end their pregnancies that way.

Early in the book it is stated that all the boys born at the orphanage are circumcised. Dr. Larch is a strong believer in circumcision as a result of his service in World War I. There he had to treat many soldiers suffering from penile problems caused by poor field sanitation and by sexually transmitted diseases.

One boy, Homer Wells, is never successfully adoped and becomes a permanent ward of the orphanage. Dr. Larch, a single man, trains Homer to be his assistant in obstetrics and treats him like a son, intending for him to have a career in medicine. When Homer is a teenager a teenage couple, Wally and Candy, come to the orphanage for Candy to have an abortion. Homer decides he wants to see more of the world beyond the orphanage. He departs with Wally and Candy and takes up residence in Wally's family home on an apple farm.

The second mention of circumcision comes as the three of them are traveling together. They stop in a town where Homer facetiously suggests they visit a certain boy who was adopted from the orphanage. Homer tells them he circumcised the boy. This contributes to the story by showing Wally and Candy that although Homer is their age he has had vastly different experiences in his young life.

World War II begins. Wally joins the Air Force and becomes a pilot. Homer is exempt from the draft because Dr. Larch fabricated a medical disqualification for him. Wally's plane is shot down over Burma and he is presumed dead. Homer and Candy begin a romantic relationship that leads to her becoming pregnant. Before anyone else is aware of the situation they travel to the orphanage, saying that they are going to do volunteer work there as their contribution to the war effort. They remain there until their son Angel is born.

Dr. Larch insists that Homer do Angel's circumcision. What this contributes to the story is to strengthen the bond between Homer and Angel, and also to satisfy Dr. Larch that Homer is maintaining his surgical skills. Dr. Larch still wants Homer to be his successor, while Homer is not at all convinced that a career in medicine is what he wants. Homer and Candy return to the apple farm with Angel, not revealing his actual parentage but telling everyone that Homer decided to adopt him.

That's the end of the circumcision related material. Wally turns up alive but severely injured, and things get very complicated after that. You'll have to read the book - or one of the more complete reviews - to learn how it all turns out.

JH       


The Hand-Reared Boy, by Brian W. Aldiss
London, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1970 / Corgi Books 1971. ISBN 0 552 08699 1 142pp

The beautiful setting of Framlingham College, the English Public School where Brian Aldiss was educated.
Any resemblance to 'Branwells' may or may not be coincidental.

Horatio Stubbs is a bank-manager's son, and like most young boys very interested in his penis. He and his older brother Nelson are both circumcised, but he soon discovers that some of the other boys are different. "Roaming through the fields with a couple of my pals one day, and stopping for a pee, I saw that one of them had the other kind of prick, with skin. When we were alone I asked him to let me have a look at it.
He brought it out willingly. It seemed a very strange object, somewhat long and pale, with the skin coming right over the red knob and ending pink and pursed almost like the bud of a small flower. He let me finger it. When I rubbed it a bit for him, nothing happened. I believe I asked him if it would open and he said no." Another boy called William provided more enlightenment: "His penis felt pulpy and peculiar, and was covered by a very thick skin, which I touched. It became erect in my grasp and he let me draw the skin back, to reveal his glistening knob brightly coloured." a later encounter ... "I had the notion, before his grew too large, of inserting my knob under his foreskin. In this unusual position we proceeded to wank ourselves off. It excited me as much as it did William. Eventually he broke loose, rubbing himself briskly and crying 'Here it comes!' I was mystified, and not unmoved, by my first glimpse of anyone undergoing orgasm."

Boarding school, "Branwells", brought greater enlightenment, including eventually an understanding of the social issues which, in 1930s England, determined why some boys would be circumcised and others not. Mutual masturbation was quite ritualised:

'Insurance' clubs also flourished. In my second term I was voted into such a club in our corner of the dormitory. My bed was the penultimate along one end of a line of beds; the chap in the end bed, I, and the next two along, formed a club of four. We took it in turn each night to creep out of bed and toss off each of the others; we could do ourselves simultaneously, or let the others help, but the rota had to be filled each night. Neither wanker nor wanked was allowed to back out of his duty under any pretext, unless he was playing in a house or school game next day, in which case he was allowed to conserve his strength.

We founded this club on the second night of term. It lasted for almost six weeks, until half-term, when a flu epidemic gave us an excuse to forget it. It was enjoyable enough; four fine able weapons were involved; the one snag was that it took so long to make Partington come that we got bored at his bed. The rest of us were comfortably quick about it. Rivers needed only a few strokes to send him off, especially at first. This club was good for me, because I was somewhat shy of the whole business at first, but our form of 'insurance' permitted the relationships to be totally impersonal. No affection was involved.

It also allowed me to reopen my investigation of uncircumcised penises, since it happened that the other three members of the club were all endowed with what I had not. That extra piece seemed to me an extraordinary luxury. It drew back so sumptuously, and was juicy underneath, not unlike Beatrice's fanny. Smith's foreskin peeled back on its own accord, as his penis swelled to erection. Partington had inches of it, and could only draw it back with difficulty; he liked to be manipulated with his foreskin up, whereas Rivers preferred it with his drawn right back.
Not all encounters were so mechanical:
Most of my sexual liaisons were with fellows of about my own age. But a much younger boy called Brown had caught my attention. Brown was in my dormitory, and had distinguished himself by being the youngest boy ever to make a pilgrimage round the beds - generally, the younger members were more sinned against than sinning. Brown, however, was keen. Keen on everything and sex most of all. He had bright ideas, with a natural flair for the erotic; after I had spent a couple of hours in bed with him I felt he was destined to go far - and downwards all the way. He confessed to me that he was in love with another boy in the sixth. Torturing him by threatening to leave him on the brink of orgasm, I got from him that this boy was Webster. I burst out laughing, because Webster was someone whom none of us took seriously. He spoke with an affected 'upper-class' drawl - I believe it was affected, although he never entirely dropped it; he could increase it in class, in order to infuriate masters. His parents were known to be well heeled - his father was someone high up in Imperial Tobacco. But Webster was a socialist, or a communist, for neither he nor we were too sure of the difference; he had a catch-phrase, and used to preach that "that things would be different after 'the absolutely bloody revolution'". It was hard to visualize him as Brown's 'lover' (a word, incidentally, that transgressed the Branwells code).

Through our mutual interest in Brown we got together for an 'insurance', the three of us. This was behind an outbuilding at Rowe's Farm, a couple of miles from school. With rubber bands, we coupled our pricks together, Webster's and my turgid black things on the outside, Brown's elegant pink-and-white weapon in the middle, like a grotesque sandwich of cod's roe between two salamis. Webster's tool had been badly scarred by the rite of circumcision, and we were all scarred temporarily by the rubber bands before we were finished.
Horatio ends up having an affair with the junior Matron, which ends badly ... but read the book. It is a brilliant book by a world-famous author.

JB     


When Father Was Away on Business
(Serbo-Croatian: Otac na sluzbenom putu is a 1985 Yugoslav film by director Emir Kusturica. The screenplay was written by the Bosnian dramatist Abdulah Sidran. Its subtitle is A Historical Love Film and it was produced by Centar Film and Forum, production companies based in Sarajevo.

Set in post-World War II Yugoslavia during the Informbiro period, the film tells the story through the eyes of the young boy Malik. His father, communist functionary Mesa (played by Miki Manojlović), has been sent to a labour camp by his own brother-in-law (his wife Sena's brother) Zijo, who's an even higher positioned Communist functionary, for making a remark about a political cartoon regarding the Tito-Stalin Split in the Politika newspaper. Malik is told by his mother that his father was away on business. Before his father leaves, young Malik is circumcised in accordance with Bosniak Muslim customs. There is graphic presentation of the circumcision, (but not the actul cut) at 30:00 into the movie. See the full movie on YouTube here: Sadly, no subtitles.

Emir Kusturica, born 24 November 1954, is a Bosnian Serb filmmaker, actor and musician who been recognized for several internationally acclaimed feature films, as well as his projects in town-building. He has twice won the Palme d'Or at Cannes (for When Father Was Away on Business and Underground), as well as being named Commander of the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Born in Sarajevo, Kusturica is from a secular Muslim family, the son of Murat Kusturica, a journalist employed at the Sarajevo's Secretariat of Information, and Senka Numankadić, a court secretary. He was baptized into the Serbain Orthodox Church in 2005, as Nemanja Kusturica. When asked about his conversion, Kusturica explained that his father had been a Communist atheist, and anyhow, Bosnian Muslims spoke Serbian and ethnically, they had been Serbians, and were converted to Islam under the Ottoman rule of the Balkans. It is not known if Kusturica himself was circumcised as a child.

Acknowledgement: Wikipedia

András Jóvágásúfiú


Jessica Yatrovsky - I <3 Boys   (I 'heart' boys)
Introduction: East Village Boys by Weston Bingham.
Power House Books, Brooklyn, NY. 2011 Unpaginated. (approx 100 pages) ISBN 978-1-57687-569-8 Hardcover, $US 24.95

The boys Jessica Latrovsky 'hearts' are young men aged (I'm guessing) from 18 to 25. They are absolutely not macho men, on the contrary they are quite androgynous, with few having any body hair. We are told nothing - there is no text from the photographer and the pages aren't even numbered. Without Bingham's introduction we wouldn't even know that they came from the East Village area of New York. Otherwise Bingham's introduction just says what I have said above, at greater length. We do know the boy's names - listed at the end with no indication of who is who.

Are they gay? Well, some are in clinches which strongly suggests that they are, but that doesn't seem to be the point. The point is that these young men are beautiful. Clearly they don't all (or any?) stick to stereotyped gender roles, but that is just part of the picture, and doesn't preclude heterosexuality as an equally valid alternative. Yatrovsky's website hints (but doesn't state) that she is gay, and she has a successor book "I <3 Girls" due out shortly (as of November 2015). This, it seems, will pursue the issue of androgyny from the other side of the fence.

The one thing that these beautiful young men have in common is that they are all circumcised. A wide range of styles, but it's a foreskin-free zone. For most Circlist readers, straight or gay, this book will be a feast for the eyes and well worth its very modest cost.


One of the opening images of the book - three nude boys with a clothed girl. Is she Jessica Yatrofsky? Of course we are not told, but one could suspect ...

Footnote - regular female correspondent MG has pointed out that in a higher resolution version of this image the boy second from left actually has a foreskin! You can see the image here. I think this is the only foreskin in a 99% foreskin free zone.

JB           


An Innocent Obsession, erotic fiction by David Catesby
Published 2005 in England by Chimera, the imprint of Pegasus Elliot MacKenzie Publishers Ltd ISBN :  9781903136324 UK Price :  £ 7.99
Listed in 2010 as out of print, second hand copies may become available from time to time.

book cover You are drawn to this book if only to identify the 'innocent obsession'. The cover depicts a nubile blonde lady wearing nothing but a thigh-length white overall. A stethoscope is around her neck, with its button held provocatively in her fingertips, signalling she is a medic. Behind her stands a suited, bespectacled male, looking on happily. Their cameo image is slightly blurred, being the reflection in an elliptically framed mirror. Across the mirror is the word NORWICH written in lipstick capitals.

Perhaps you have to be of a certain age to appreciate that acronym. This reviewer certainly remembers it as an inscription often seen on the back of envelopes posted to wives and girlfriends by conscripted UK military. Read the book if you need further enlightenment.

Here is a short erotic novel written by and set in the timeframe of a WW2 baby boomer. The author, David Catesby, is a retired professional man (a chartered accountant) with some very precise medical knowledge of a particular procedure. Although he doesn’t exactly confirm it, that procedure was presumably performed on him as an infant, much to the delight and appreciation of his late wife. Actually he does make if clear, obliquely on the first page of the story, and later plainly when he tells Kate he is cut (p62). Thanks to Tom for pointing this out. (Ed)

Prefacing his fiction with fact, we learn the author was very happily married to Kate until her death in an accident ended their loving relationship all too early. When grief subsided enough for David to look through Kate Catesby’s wardrobe, he found a file of nursing college notes from his late wife’s days in training on the wards. There was also her diary of their monogamous courtship, marriage, and subsequent parenthood. Those writings, for which Kate had a gift, were the inspiration for this unusual book, a one-off we gather, which has more than one purpose.

Do you know what an acucullophiliac is? No, neither did I. It’s hard to spell and even harder to say after a couple of drinks, but this book will inform you. In his excellent introduction we discover, as the widowed author did, that his dear wife Kate was one. Her disposition dominates the story you may care to read. Just where the legacy of fact from Kate’s papers ends and David’s fantasy and mission begins, only he knows.

Growing up contemporaneously with him, I can vouch for its authenticity. A long, largely italicised chapter, records Kate’s conversations with nursing colleagues on a particular subject. These pretty much match those my own wife reported from her days with office girly friends; same time, same topic. Events, opinions, attitudes, described do not stretch credulity. Then, unlike today, the 'obsession' wouldn’t really be considered an obsession, except if that was the only thing that mattered in their lives, which of course in the book it is.

Britain from 1940 to 1960 was very different from today. We were shocked then to be told that at least a third of all brides before the altar had already lost their virginity. The corollary being that two thirds saved themselves for their wedding night. Before teenage magazines, computers and mobile texting, there were fewer preoccupations for growing girls other than helping mum. Today’s girls live in worlds of their own, hardly eclipsing homemaking. Yesterday’s girls learned more of childcare from their mothers. Like Kate in this novel, they were involved in bathing and changing their younger siblings. In the case of brothers, opportunities for mother-to-daughter male anatomy lessons were not lost. Kate Catesby had even more from her mother; a theatre nurse, who moulded her daughter’s opinions on the book’s subject matter as firmly as she had formed her own.

There are two parallel debates that have run at least for the last fifty years. One is the headline-grabbing topic of abortion; concerned with cutting short a life in the womb. The other is male circumcision; cutting short a foreskin soon after its owner has left the womb.

Both arouse impassioned argument and fanaticism, but the latter is lower in terms of media copy; strangely so in an age when every intimate detail of sexuality can be well ventilated. To mention one’s circumcision status or ask about someone else’s is, even now, hedged with jokey embarrassment in mixed company. For most, it remains a frontier of personal disclosure not easily breached.

In this climate, ignorance has flourished. Something which cannot be discussed cannot be evaluated and the opponents of circumcision have seized their assault platform. As David points out, they have been fortuitously assisted by the bean counters of the National Health Service whose short term cost-cutting has resulted in far less foreskin cutting. Thus, in recent generations, circumcised boys have become something of a rarity, if not an endangered species. However, as with other time honoured and proven treatments, the benefits of circumcision are on the threshold of rediscovery. The fact that recent research is running along the Damascus Road is encouraging to proponents.

As anti-circumcisionists start to write even more dismissively, exasperated enthusiasts wonder what they can do to counteract their influence. A few respected doctors have published good books aimed at educating parents and blowing the myths which currently prevail in the fashionable 'collective wisdom' that circumcision is a procedure past its time.

David Catesby is set to line up with the pro-circumcision doctors. He feels he too has a book of circumcision advocacy in him. But, not being a medical man, his credibility would be suspect. However, his late wife was a trained nurse, who often assisted professionally with this procedure, and as a mother arranged the circumcision of their infant son. Her hitherto unshared writings are a personal outlet for her intense conviction that circumcision benefits males and their female partners in health, hygiene and sexual eroticism.

His only regret was that Kate died before she had a chance to share her thoughts with him, as she had one day planned. Realising they were kindred spirits in their wish to see the current UK thinking on circumcision reversed, David has seized an opportunity to evangelise and create a memorial to Kate. She would have approved of both.

Will it succeed? To write over 170 pages of fairly repetitive scenes, on a very restricted theme, is a brave attempt. As a circumcisee and advocate myself, I’m not sure an erotic novel is the best vehicle to further its routine re-adoption. “Too far into fetish territory”, some will say. “Obsessive” will be the verdict of others. But then the title tells you that, in all innocence.
I'm not sure I agree with Tony in taking the back-story so literally, Ed

Tony Shaw           


Europa Europa
Directed by Agnieszka Holland, written by Agnieszka Holland & Paul Hengge, starring Marco Hofschneider. A joint German/Polish/French production by CCC Films, in German with English subtitles.

film stills

In Germany the film is titled "Hitlerjunge Salomon" (Hitler Youth Solomon). It was scripted in the 1980s, with Marco's brother René intended to play Solomon (Solek). By the time it was filmed in 1990 René was too old and he took the part of Solek's oldest brother Isaak. In 1992 it won the Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay (won by Silence of the Lambs), but curiously was not entered for Best Foreign Film.

The film is based on the true story of Solomon Perel, played in the movie by Marco Hofschneider. Circumcision is very much a central theme. The movie opens with a flash-back to the young boy’s bris as a new born. The real action starts at his Bar Mitzvah (Jewish coming of age at his 14th birthday). By an unfortunate coincidence this was Kristallnacht, November 9th 1938, when Germans were urged to attack Jewish homes and businesses. When their front door was attacked Solek was in the bath preparing to change into his Bar Mitzvah clothes. He leaps out of the window, naked, and hides in a barrel. When things quieten down he asks a passing female friend (he has lots of these throughout the movie) to get him clothes fron his home. She refuses but gives him a coat with a swastika armband, as good a disguise as any.

Solek returns home, but his sister has been killed and the family decide to quit Germany, returning to their original home in Poland. When the Nazis invade Poland Solek escapes over the border to Russia where he is taken in to a refugee orphanage and educated as a good Communist. All OK until the Germans then invade Russia. Abandoned, Solek approaches the Germans, using a false name, as a fellow German. His fluent Russian (and Polish) are a valuable asset to the troop, and he becomes something of a mascot to them.

nude scenes

From this point keeping his circumcison status out of sight becomes a matter of life or death, and much of the plot revolves around it. Taking a bath is obviously tricky, but he dosses down in an empty house and finally has the privacy to do so. However a young soldier, Robert, takes the opportunity to creep up and make a homosexual pass at him. He rejects the pass but now they each know the other's secret - both potential death sentences, and they become friends.

Eventual the commander of the unit takes such a shine to "Jupp" that he adopts him as his son and sends him to an elite Hitler Youth Academy in Berlin. (Hence the German title). Needless to say this leads to even more situations where he needs to hide his status, some of which he gets out of by cunning, some by luck. But the Allies are winning, and eventually the Russians move into Berlin. Solek is in trouble - he looks the typical Hitler Youth. He protests that he is a Jew, but the Russians don't want to believe that. He doesn't look like the Jews they've seen. Luckily brother Isaak, just liberated from a concentration camp, is with the Russians and identifies his brother. A happy ending.

The movie ends with the real Solomon Perel, who settled in Israel after the war, singing the words of Psalm 133 to a traditional Jewish melody: "How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity."

Believe me, I've revealed only a fraction of the twists and turns of this plot, which switches between comedy, tragedy and cliff-hanger. Some of the coincidences are a bit hard to believe - maybe the true story has been embellished. Then again, given how many millions died, maybe it was the tiny few who had such coincidences that survived. The movie is still widely available on DVD, and really is a must-see.

This review is loosely based on one I found in the Circlist archive. That claimed the Marco was in fact not circumcised and wore a prosthesis to make him look cut. I can find no evidence to confirm this and it frankly seems ridiculous. Why would they cast an uncircumcised boy in the part? Other sources say that the Hofschneider brothers are Jewish, which again I can't confirm but it makes more sense than the prosthesis story.

J. B.