Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Eating Animals – Jonathan Safran Foer

2008, 352 pages
Jonathan Safran Foer played with the idea of becoming a vegetarian ever since his babysitter told him where his chicken came from when he was a child. Though he tried many times, it never worked out. He, and later he and his wife, were vegetarians, unless they felt like eating meat.
When they were expecting their first child, he felt this is a time for some important decisions in his life, and he started exploring the whole notion of eating animals, a process that resulted in this book.
He explores the subject on many levels. On a personal one, he speaks about the role of food in his life and his family, especially his Holocaust survival grandmother, for whom food and body weight play a big role in her life. He also muses about the family traditions involving food, the turkey in thanks giving, the gefilte fish in the Jewish holidays, and whether it is possible to keep these traditions without traditional food.
On another level, he researches what happens inside the livestock industry. How are animals kept, handled and slaughtered. He visits few kinds of farms, some are factory farms (where his visits are not really welcomed, or even official), some try to do things more or less differently, with some more considerations to the animal’s welfare and health (and, of course, the health of the humans consuming it). He interviews many people in the industry, animal right activists, farmers and more, and delivers their point of view. He quotes from researches, surveys and reports about the livestock industry. He also goes back to the history of industrial farming, and the genetic changes to the farm animals over the past few decades.
He also touches more aspects of consuming livestock products, like the health risks and the damage to the environment by polluting and contributing to the greenhouse gases and global warming.
He declares at the beginning that this is not a book that preaches about the necessity to become vegetarians (though he says that it is interesting that most people – also omnivores – assumed that a book about eating animals is necessarily a book that supports vegetarianism). Because of that I didn’t think the book will include some hard to read descriptions about what happens to animals in farms and slaughterhouses. I was wrong. The book included some very hard to read descriptions, some of them haunted me for days and prevented me from sleeping. The book also managed to surprise me, though I consider myself a vegetarian who is aware of what is going on in the livestock industry.
Foer is true to his declaration at the beginning of the book, and he does not call for a vegetarian diet for everyone. He accepts and respects other point of views he brings to the book. His main target is the factory farms, where most horrors, concerning both animals fare, animal and human health, worker abuse (and consequently animal abuse by them) and pollution occur.
The book is a little disorganized, with its many aspects and subjects. However I felt it is very strong and moving. I found myself changed because of the book, stricter with my vegetarian diet, and refusing to support the factory farm, even by not eating their products directly. I think everyone should read this book, both vegetarian and omnivores, because the choice should be informed. No one can say he didn’t know, now that all the aspects of the livestock industry are well known and documented.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Still Alice – Lisa Genova

2007, 300 pages
Alice has a good life. She just turned 50. She is a professor at Harvard and so is her husband. She has three children in their twenties and she loves them and very proud of them. At least of the first two. She is a little frustrated at her third and smartest daughter’s choice to skip college and go to LA to become an actress. But other than that and some other small things, like the time her husband spends on his work and research, that is too much even by her standards, she is happy and satisfied.
Until she starts to forget things. Not that it doesn’t happen to everybody here and there. But not to her. She always had an excellent memory.
She discovers she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Like half a million other Americans who start suffering from the Alzheimer’s symptoms before the age of 65.
The book follows the process of the advance of the disease from her point of view. How does it feel to gradually lose all the metal abilities that defined who she is all her lives. It also follows the way people around her handle her new situation. Her husband, her kids, her colleagues. What does it do to her relationship with them.
The book doesn’t give endless explanations about how everything make her feel. Usually it just describes what is happening. Like an empty chair next to her in a crowded room full of standing people. But I found myself crying throughout almost the whole book. These are just the kind of books that moves me the most: not explaining in words and words how the character feels, but showing the reader by making him feel the same way. I could feel the terror of the reality slipping away from the decaying mind.
Alice does her best to keep her brain cells in good shape. She exercises. Eats all the right food. Does Yoga. Meditating. At 50 her body is in perfect shape. Lean, strong and healthy. It does not help her brain nerve cells from dying.
Alice knows who she is – who she was her whole life: the brilliant researcher from Harvard, the excellent teacher, the devoted advisor to PhD students, always impressing everyone with her fast thinking and excellent memory. All this will be taken away by the disease. Who will she be then? She thinks about her priorities in life and the relationships with her loved ones. But is it too late? If you are anything like me, you probably thought after reading the last sentences “oh no, another one of this new-age books about the true meaning of life”. Not at all. This book will not preach you to sell you Ferrari. It is a very realistic book, down-to-earth, with no easy answers, only difficult questions and a very touching and true description of reality.
This book is not only captivating, fascinating and touching, it is also very important. It sounds the voice of Alzheimer’s patients, especially those with early onset, that unlike Alice, are usually misdiagnosed for long and precious time, given the wrong medicines and treatment. It is a must read.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card

1986, 415 pages
Book two in “The Ender Saga”.
*** Spoiler Alert: May Contain spoilers to the first book of the saga “Ender’s Game” ***
This book takes place 3000 years after the events in “Ender’s Game”. But Ender is only 35 years old. Since he travels in almost light speed between the stars, telling the story of the dead buggers, time passes in a different paste for him during travel while many years pass in each drip that takes only a few days for him. We find him with his sister on a cold habituated star, teaching at a university.
In the meantime, only 22 light years away, there is another colony of Catholic Brazilians on a star where the only intelligent life form was discovered since the buggers thousands of years ago. Scientists from the colony study them with strict rules that should prevent any danger both to the Pequeninos, the aliens, and to the humans. But when something goes wrong, a call for a speaker for the dead goes out from the planet, and forces Ender to be involved in the events in the little colony.
Ender is not a child any more. He never really felt like a child to me, always too smart and in control, but he still has some human limits inside him I could relate to in “Ender’s Game”. Here he is totally unreachable, always knowing all, ahead of everyone else, figuring out in hours and days what others couldn’t begin to grasp in decades. He didn’t really feel like a human character at all.
Other characters in the beginning of the book did grasp my interest and caring, but the big jumps in time in this relatively short book changed them too much and put them in a place that prevented me from feeling that I “know” them enough to care. So the book lacked one of the most important things I look for – characters I feel I know and care about.
The world in this planet is quite interesting with very peculiar characteristics Card is trying to provide a convincing scientific explanations for. I wasn’t totally convinced but it was still interesting and I like the world of the aliens, the pequeninos.
The colony is Catholic-religious, and though the world is highly advanced technologically, with time travel almost at the speed of light, computer network faster than the speed of light, artificial eyes and more, still all civil matters are controlled by the church, living together without marriage is unheard of and so is divorce, a husband has a legal rights to access all of his wife’s secret files, and by the number of kids a miserable family with no love and no time or will to spend with the kids has, seems like contraceptives are also unheard of. I guess it was not the meaning but it felt like a horror story to me. Going back to the scientific part of the book that wasn’t very convincing, it felt like the whole plot was molded to fit the theological point of view of the author. Not only that, but the book was full of theological discussions that I found a little tiresome. The story could have been much more interesting without them, but I guess that for the author the plotline was only the “excuse” for these discussions. One more irritating thing – I don’t get what the idea of a Portuguese speaking community is – many sentences were said in Portuguese and then again in English for translation. What did it serve other then annoy the reader? After the end of the book Card talks about the book and tells a story that happened to him when he was a missionary in Brazil. It could be the reason for the Portuguese in the book, but I didn’t feel it serves any purpose, nor did it feel real or convincing that thousands of years from now this is the language colonists on faraway star will speak.
All in all, I thought the story was interesting in spite of some flaws, and I am glad I read it, but less theology and more character development could have made it a much better story.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Warbreaker – Brandon Sanderson

2009, 592 pages
In Elantris, the previous book by Sanderson that I read, there were humans who turned into gods, and there were a prince and a princes going to get married for political reasons. But the plot prevented both processes from happening. Sanderson explains in his website that after writing completely different things – a few fantasy series – he decided to write another stand-alone fantasy books that return to these issues and checks what happens when they do happen. How does it feel for a human to become a god. What’s it like to marry someone you never met for political reasons. That’s what happens in this book.
So again, we have a princess. Even two. Vivenna is the oldest daughter of the king of the small Idris kingdom. She is promised from birth to marry the god-king of the Hallandren big kingdom, in an agreement that leaves the small Idris kingdom independent. She prepares for this moment all her life, learning about the Hallandren kingdom and their system of gods that rules them. She is an obedient and responsible daughter and she’ll do everything to fulfill her part in the best possible way. Siri is Vevenna’s little sister. She is a free spirit that enjoys being “unnecessary”, all her bigger siblings fulfills all the royal duties. But when the moment arrives and the king father has to send Vivenna to the god king, he decides to send Siri, for reasons you will find in the book. She is sent unprepared to the heart of what Idrians see as the pagan and barbaric kingdom to an unknown fate. Vivenna, worried about her sister and suddenly feeling useless, decides to follow her and try to rescue her.
And we have a mortal that turns into a god. That’s what Lightsong the Brave was told. He died doing something very brave in his mortal life, and returned as a god. He cannot remember anything from his formal life, and his high priest is not allowed to tell him about it. He is full of doubts, a god who does not believe in his own religion, and tries to escape by being as useless and possible and by using endless sarcasm and cynicism, whenever he speaks, giving the book some very amusing moments.
We also have Vasher, going around the kingdom, using a magical sword to kill people and using a special magic to awaken objects to do his wills.
There are many surprises along the book. The author plays with the definitions of good and evil, and that’s a good thing, we don’t have definite good or bad people in the book, everyone is convinced that there is a full justification to what he or she is doing. However, some surprises and changeovers are not convincing. It’s not like I could say “yes, the clues were there all along and I just didn’t see them”. By trying not to use stereotypes in describing “good” or “bad” people, it just didn’t feel real and convincing.
However the story is interesting, the magic system using colors and awakening still objects was imaginative, and some characters were intriguing, especially Lightsong the cynical returned god. I did enjoy reading the book while I was reading it, but it didn’t draw me in, I wasn’t looking for any opportunity to go back to the book and read it. The only time I felt completely drawn to the book was at the end, that I liked a lot (and even shed some tears). In that aspect it was a little disappointing after Elantris, a book I could not put down after some point in the middle of the book.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano

Written in Italian in 2008, 271 pages.
Two kids in Italy go through a trauma that changes their lives forever. Each kid and his own trauma, there is no connection between them back then. They grow up scarred and lonely, each one of them tries to find solace by physically harming oneself. They meet in high school and drawn to each other, but their internal scars don’t let them get really close to each other and close the gap between them.
The boy is a genius. He escapes to the world of numbers and math. Everything he sees he interprets in terms of mathematics. He thinks of himself and the girl as these pairs of prime numbers that only one number separates between them, so close but can never really touch.
I liked the way math was combined into the story, and the analogies the boy uses. I could understand to his preference of a world where everything makes sense and can be explained with simple (or not so simple, but at least known and sensible) rules, unlike the mysterious world of human relationship.
But I didn’t like the story itself. The love story wasn’t convincing and I didn’t enjoy reading about it. After finishing the story I felt it is pointless and incomplete, like it just ended arbitrarily. I wouldn’t recommend this book.
One small thing that bothered me: the author is a mathematician, not a biologist, but still he could avoid a very common mistake: identical twins are identical in everything, including gender. There cannot be identical twins when one of them is a girl and the other is a boy. This is a very common mistake in books, because, I guess, a girl and a boy that look exactly the same has lots of potential for a story, but I would expect a scientist to avoid this kind of mistake.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Elantris – Brandon Sanderson

2005, 656 pages
Raoden is the prince of a kingdom called Arelon. He is going to be the king after his father, he is going to get married to a princess from a nearby kingdom, and it seems like everything goes well in his life, until one morning everything changes, and nothing will ever be the same for him.
Sarene the princess of Teod arrives to Arelon to get married. A political marriage, to create a bond between Teod and Arelon to help these two kingdoms to stand against the Derethi empire that swallowed the rest of the world except for these two last kingdoms. But she hopes the marriage will be more than that. An old maid of 25 years, exceptionally tall, smart and opinionate, she has no chance for marriage of love in her home land, and she is left with the option of helping her father the king in politics and maybe find her happiness away from home. But an unpleasant surprise awaits her at Arelon.
Hrathen arrives Arelon to save the people. If he converts their religion to the Derethi’s Shu-Dereth, they will not be killed when the Derethi empire invades to their land. He will do anything in his power to convert as many people as possible to the only true religion and save both their souls and their bodies.
And in the center of all is Elantris, the city that used to be the most beautiful city of all, its habitant half-gods, beautiful and full of magic that kept the satellite city and the whole Arelon flourishing. Until ten years ago it all changed and the blessing of Elantris turned into a curse for unknown reasons.
I enjoyed the book a lot. It is a fantasy book just as a fantasy book should be, full of action and romance, with charming characters that touch the reader and make him care for them. The beginning was very interesting, displaying the characters, the world and its rules. After that the book was a little slow, but from about the middle I could not put it down until the end. It was worth it to read the relatively slow part because it sets the background for the events at the second half of the book and makes the reader deeply involved in what’s going on and what is happening to the characters. Sanderson has a lot of imagination, he created a full and detailed world with its politics and religions and great characters, and built a plot with lots of surprises and interesting turns. I will definitely continue to his other works.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pawn of Prophecy (Belgariad Book 1) – David Eddigs

Del Rey Books, 1982, 258 pages, US
Many years ago, a family of gods created the world. They divided between themselves the nations that worshipped them. But one of the gods became greedy, and almost ruined the world in a war between the gods over a magical object. The gods decided to abandon the world in body and leave a powerful sorcerer to watch the magical object and the royal family who keep it.
All this is ancient history, old tales, that Garion the boy hears but not necessarily believes. He lives in a farm with his aunt, the kitchen manager, and enjoys a peaceful life. Until one day a series of events cause drastic change in his life and he finds himself involved in strange adventures and old legends and prophecies.
I loved the book and enjoyed it a lot. It is funny and touching. I had to smile while hearing it (because I heard the audiobook). It is not too violent or harsh, safe for teens and older kids. I especially liked the character of Garion the boy. Unlike young main characters of other books, he didn’t feel like an adult that found himself inside a boy’s body. He behaves like a boy in a very convincing way. He can nag and annoy, complain sometimes, has to ask about anything, and sometimes just has to do the opposite of what he’s told, but it doesn’t make him any less charming and likeable. I am curious to see what happens to him and the rest of the characters in the next books of the series.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Runaway – Alice Munro

2004, 352 pages
Eight short stories by the Canadian writer, all take place in Canada, and tell the story of a woman.
The woman can be very young, very old, or in between. Sometimes and old woman goes back to some event in her past, long time ago.
Many times this single event changed their lives. The chance has a very important role in these events. If things had been a little bit different, in some small way, there could have been a completely different outcome. Sometimes only after many years the woman learns about the role of luck and chance in the events that changed or could have changed her life.
All the women are seeking something, some change, a relationship, a self fulfillment, or sometimes they seek the way out from the situation their prior choices got them into.
I enjoyed the book a lot. I usually don’t like short stories. It takes a while for me to get to know the characters and the setting of the story, to care enough for them to be interested in what is going on. But this book was written so beautifully. I got to know and to care for the characters in each story. I was happy the “meet” some of the characters again in the next stories, many years after the previous story. I felt the author captured the essence of the human nature, the hopes, the fears, the reasons for our actions. All the stories were very convincing and felt true, like those people could really exist and these events could really have happened.
Weather and scenery play a big role of the book and I enjoyed reading about the places, both the places I know and love in Western Canada, and the places I am less familiar with in Eastern Canada. I later read that Munro lived in both places. I could feel she writes from a deep knowledge of these locations.
I was happy to know a new author (for me of course) and love her writing. I am sure I will go on to more books she wrote.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This Is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper

2009, 352 pages
When Judd Foxman’s father died, he had a peculiar last wish: he wanted his family to sit Shiva after his death, the Jewish traditional seven days of mourning together at the same house for the deceased’s close family. The wish is peculiar because Mort, the father, was known as a non-religious man. But Judd, like the rest of the family, agrees to gather in his childhood home and spend the week with his mother, sister and two brothers. The family members are not very fond of each other and they get on each other’s nerves after minutes of spending time together, so no wonder Judd dreads a full seven days with them under the same roof. And this does not sum up the problems in his life right now. His wife left him for his boss, and that left him unemployed and homeless too. The book follows the seven days of the Shiva, the relationship and surprising discoveries in the family, and the crisis in Judd’s personal life.
It is supposed to be a light, funny but touching book. I am sorry to say it did neither of these for me. I almost never laughed or felt touched. The book is full of sex of violence. People are either sleeping with each other (or fantasizing about it) or punching each other. Maybe it is supposed to be a man’s book, on the light side, something like the male version of a chic-lit. Anyway, it didn’t work for me. I was mainly bored or disgusted.
One part that did touch me and was described in a beautiful way was the saying of the Kadish, the prayer for the deceased, in a synagogue. It all seemed so respectful and true, with men and women sitting together, the wife and the daughter saying the Kadish with the men. It may be obvious for American-Jews, but it is so different than what I saw in the very few times I had to take part in a Jewish traditional ceremony. I always dismissed it when people told me I should try to go to synagogues on Jewish holidays and I will find a completely different experience than what I previously saw. I still think that there is nothing for an atheist to look for in a synagogue, but I think I get what they meant.
With the exception of this one scene, like I said, the rest of the book didn’t really do anything to me, and I don’t think I will go on to try other books of this author.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Son of a Witch – Gregory Maguire

2005, 352 pages.
Sequel of “Wicked”.

*** SPOILER ALERT: contains spoilers to the previous book “Wicked” ****

“Wicked” is one of my favorite books ever. Very few heroines touched my heart like Elphaba. Unfortunately, Elphaba died at the end of the book. I wasn’t too compelled to go on to the next book in “The Wicked Years”, “Son of a Witch”, because I knew Elphaba wasn’t there, but I decided to read it anyway, hoping she will at least be mentioned, or appear in memories and recollections (kind of desperate, I know…).
This book focuses in Liir, who could be Elphaba’s son – nobody really know. The book starts about a decade after the end of the previous book and the death of Elphaba. Liir is found bitten, unconscious, almost dead, and taken into a Maunt, where he is treated. From here the story go back to his memories from the death of his – maybe – mother to the present. We learn how Liir tries to find his place in life, and what had become of Oz during this time. We meet some of the characters of the previous book, like Glinda, and we get to know Dorothy and her companions a little better.
The book is called “Son of a Witch”, though Liir (and the reader) does not know if that is true. But Liir finds out that he can have a saying in this issue – he can choose to be the son of Elphaba, the rebel, the only one who dared to defy the Wizard and what he did to the Animals in the previous book. He has to make that decision and make up his mind if he want to be her son, no matter if they share a DNA or not, or if he wants to run away from her legacy and memory – memories that are not necessarily pleasant, since Elphaba wasn’t the example of a maybe-mom – or find himself, what he really is, not as a son or not-a-son of somebody else. Liir goes through a big change in the book.
I didn’t like the Liir at the beginning of the book, and I didn’t enjoy the first half. After about half a book I was much more interested in what is happening and what Liir is going through. All in all I enjoyed the book, though it took a while to get caught by it. It has all the good things I loved about “Wicked” – the witty and shrewd writing, the words play, the moral discussions, the analogy to our reality of this fantasy world, the cynical use of war and suspicion by the rulers. What I didn’t have is a captivating main character as Elphaba that made Wicked to what it is. I am still glad I read it after all. I also guessed the end, but still liked it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins

2010, 390 pages
The third and final book of “The Hunger Games” trilogy.

*** Spoiler Alert: contains spoilers to the first two books in the trilogy: “The Hunger Games” and “Catching Fire” ***

Unlike the first book, which ended in a relatively closed manner, the second book had a cliff-hanger ending. I am glad I didn’t read the second book until the third book was available.
So many surprises at the last pages of the second book. Katniss was rescued from her second hunger game by the rebels in district 13 that do exist, apparently. Peeta was taken captive by the Capitol. District 12 is gone. Completely destroyed by the Capitol. The few survivors, including Gale and Katniss’ mother and sister, join the rebels of district 13.
It seems like the third book is very different than the previous two books. The first books were all centered on the first and second hunger games, and took place in district 12, the Capitol and the arena. Now we are in district 13, and the big event isn’t the hunger game, but the rebellion, and the war against the Capitol, led by the leaders of district 13, hoping to get all the other districts to their side, with the help of Katniss, the mockingjay, the hunger game winner who defied the capitol. But is it really different? Isn’t Katniss again a pawn in the hands of people who have their own agenda?
Katniss has to get used to the life in district 13, get over her guilt over leaving Peeta behind, and decide if and how to take part of the rebellion.
I didn’t find this book as captivating as the previous two. I didn’t have this urge to know what happens next and I didn’t have a problem to leave the book. The story is less centered, more scattered. I didn’t like at all some of the events in this book. I am still happy I read it and know how the story ends. I liked what the author tried to lead her characters and readers into, but I didn’t always feel it was done in a very convincing way. I still liked the direction and the main theme of the book. I have no doubt that anyone who read the second book will not stay handing on the cliff and read this book to know what happens eventually.
All in all it is a good trilogy that worth reading, even though the first two books are better than the last one.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins

2009, 391 pages
Second book of “The Hunger Games” trilogy.

*** Spoiler Alert: contains spoilers to the first book in the trilogy “The Hunger Games” ***

This book starts a short time after the end of the previous book, “The Hunger Games”. Against all odds, after tricking the Capitol, both Katniss and Peeta won the hunger game. We could think they reached the “happily ever after”. They are alive. Their families will never suffer hunger again, as long as they live. With only the small problem of how to handle Peeta’s surprising love and the long-time friendship with Gale, seems like Katniss will not have any serious problems. But of course, if that were the case, we wouldn’t have two consequent books…
All Katniss wanted was to somehow survive the game, and then go back to her family and get off the Capitol’s radar. But it turns out that as a Victor, a winner of the hunger game, she cannot do that. First she and Peeta have to do the winner’s tour in all the districts and the capitol. Then, every year, she’ll have to play as the mentor of the tributes, at least until there will be enough Victors to choose mentors from.
If that’s not enough, the Capital’s president, Snow, is furious at Katniss, as we found out at the end of the previous book. The whole idea of the hunger game is to show the districts that they are weak, that the Capitol can do whatever it likes to them and to their most precious treasure, their kids, and there’s nothing they can do about it, so that they will never think of rebelling again. But Katniss did just that, she tricked the game makers with the poisoned berries to let both her and Peeta live and win the game. She did it on live TV in front of all of Panem. And it is very dangerous for the capital.
Katniss has to handle her new position in district 12, the rivalry between Gale and Peeta over her, her duties as a Victor, and convince Snow that she is fully cooperative with him, because she knows he can hurt her, and hurt her bad.
The book is again very captivating, hard to put down throughout the whole book. I always had to know what happens next. It is a little harsher than the previous one.
Katniss was a little annoying, reminded me of Bella from twilight with her self-sacrifice determination and self guilt over things she did out of self sacrifice and taking care of others before herself. She is not my favorite character in the story. I still enjoyed the book a lot. I think everyone who enjoyed the first book will enjoy this one as well.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Old Man’s War - John Scalzi

2005, 320 pages
This is not a book I would usually pick to read. Descriptions of wars and combats bore me. But after I started reading this book, I thought this is something completely different.
John Perry is going to join the army at the age of 75. Not a regular army, but the Colonial Defense Force (CDF), that fights for humans living in distant planets.
Joining the army at the age of 75 doesn’t make much sense. How can an old person, at the last stage of his life, be useful as a soldier? But the fact is, the CDF wants these people. And that’s the motivation behind leaving everything they know on earth, their family, their home, and going towards the unknown: somehow, the CDF will have to make them strong and healthy again to be able to fight. And though it doesn’t seem much for someone who is still strong and healthy, things look completely different at the age of 75.
The first part of the book was great. Very touching, interesting and funny. It describes John’s life when he enlists. How he misses his wife who was supposed to enlist with him but died of stroke. His dealing with old age and deteriorated health. His relationship with friends and family. His moral dilemma between resistance to war and violence and his will to be young again and escape dying of old age, at least for a while. And a very funny description of the enlistment process. The book sure promised a lot in the first part.
The second part, describing the process of becoming a CDF soldier, unfolding the mystery of how the CDF uses 75 year olds as fighting soldiers, is pretty interesting, with lots of science-fiction technologies and theories. It was OK, but not as touching as the first part.
I was hoping that the next part will be interesting and touching again, but unfortunately it was only worse, just what I was afraid of: endless descriptions of combats and wars, weapons and fighting tactics. I was extremely bored. I was still hoping it leads somewhere, maybe back to the moral dilemmas of the first part, but was disappointed. These subjects were merely touched and not really handled seriously, and what I was hoping would be a serious discussion of the morality of combating and killing and looking for other ways to deal with difficult situations concerning “others” (aliens, in this case), just turned out to be a regular story of a war hero.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dead in the Family – Charlaine Harris

2010, 312 pages
Book 10 in the “Sookie Stackhouse” series.

*** SPOILER ALERT: contains spoilers to the previous 9 books in the series ***

After reading the previous 9 books in the series, plus the short stories collection “A Touch of Dead”, I am completely hooked on the series. I knew no matter what’s in this book, I’ll enjoy meeting all the well known characters again, like old friends, especially when the previous book ended when Sookie was finally with Eric, my favorite partner for her and my favorite male character in the series.
And it was nice meeting all these acquaintances again, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it, and I read through the whole book in a short time. But something was missing. It feels like the series lost its charm. It is not funny as it used to be. The romance is not as intense as in the first few books. The fantasy world does not have new fascinating aspects we didn’t know about. Same all same. The characters have changed and lost their uniqueness and fun. Eric is not that arrogance self-assured funny guy (OK, vampire) he used to be. Sookie is not as fun and funny as before, and her mind reading does not play a big part in this book. Even Jason is not that stupid and egoistic, and Claude that used to be charming just as long as he didn’t open his mouth does not seem like a total jerk anymore even after he starts speaking.
The plot is similar to those of the previous books – a body is found, somewhere near Sookie of course, what makes her involved if she wants or if she doesn’t want to, and she has to find out who and what, while, as usual, she finds herself in danger from some unnatural creature. I wasn’t disappointed by the plot, because the mystery was never the reason I liked these books so much – it was because of the characters, and the fun, and the humor, and the romance, and the imaginative fantasy world that was built in this series. And like I said before, all these were missing in this book.
I am not sure I will go on to the next book in the series. But who knows, once hooked, it is not so easy to let go…

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Island beneath the Sea – Isabel Allnede

2009, 462 pages, translated from Spanish
Haiti is the first and only nation in the world that was founded as a result of slave uprising. The book takes place around the time of the rebel in Haiti. It follows two main characters: Valmorain, a French man who arrived to the Saint Domingue, as Haiti was called then, as a young man, to visit his father’s plantation, thinking he’ll be back to his good life in Paris with his mother and sisters, but finds himself stuck in the plantation, and Zarite, called Tete, daughter of a black slave brought from Africa and one of the sailors on the ship that brought her, who ends up in Valmorain’s plantation. The book follows them in the events preceding the revolution, during the stormy years of the revolution and the years after that.
The story presents well the extreme cruelty of the slavery on the island. It is easy to understand why it is the only nation that was founded due to slave rebellion. They had nothing to lose. Work was hard, food was scarce, and when the slaves died after a few years, new slaves from Africa replaced them. So the island was full of people who knew they have nothing to hope for but slow and cruel death, people who knew freedom and would do anything to gain it again.
Another issue in the book is the relationship between white man and black or mulatto women. It shows all kinds of these relationships, from forced rape, to open love and marriage, of shamed and hidden love, to cope with society rules and codes.
The book is also full of fascinating discussions about moral, slavery and the conflicts between the right thing to do and the circumstances forced by social and economical terms. Valmorain is not presented as a bad person, at least not at first, and it is fascinating to see how he surrenders to what everybody is saying and doing, silencing his conscious. In that the book is so relevant, and people like Valmorain can be found anywhere, with new issues replacing the slavery.
I enjoyed the book in general. It brings to life a time in history I didn’t know much about, and it is fascinating at times, though to my taste it spreads along a too long period of time. I prefer books that focus on a relatively short period of time, enabling to get into the characters and the events, feeling the change and growth in the characters as they happen, instead of taking a distance while years go by and people change. But people who like family sagas that spread along many years will surely enjoy this book a lot.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

2008, 374 pages.
Another dystopia describing a gloomy future of North America. Sometimes it seems like the authors are competing on who will create the worse future for this area.
Katniss is a 14 years old girl living in district 12 of what used to be North America and now called Panem. This country is ruled by the Capitol that makes sure no district dares to rebel in a harsh and cruel way. After the last unsuccessful rebellion, the Capitol starts a yearly event called “The Hunger Game”. Every district has to send one boy and one girl to the game, and the winner is the one that stays alive. The game is broadcasts by TV to the whole nation, the Capitol and the districts, and the game makers make sure they have plenty to watch, with lots of blood and violence. Katniss finds herself as a contestant in the game, and the story, told by her, follows her along the game.
The hunger game is influenced by all the reality shows that are so popular today, and it is not hard to see the resemblance. Though theoretically the safety of the contestants is kept in our reality, unlike the one in the book, whenever something happens or almost happens to a contestant, that is all is shown in the teaser to the next chapter, making it very clear that this is what draws the kind of audience that watches these shows and make the rating.
The book is a young adult book. It has a non-complicated plot told in a straight-forward fashion. There is no need for too much concentration to follow this book. Though the characters do not have too much depth, to say the least, it is told in a very captivating way and it is very hard to put the book down, I always felt that I just have to know what happened next.
Usually in these kind of futuristic books there are two kinds of realities, the technologically advanced one with lots of inventions and a primitive one where people are stripped of the privileges we are used of today. This book has both of them. The districts, kept primitive and starved by the capitol, where people spend most of their time in search for food, may times illegally while risking their lives, and the Capitol, rich and advanced, where people look for momentary thrilling pleasure, like fixing their bodies, and following death and violence on the TV. I liked the futuristic description, though a little simplistic, and I could definitely see the present western society turning into the Capitol society of the book.
All in all a nice book, captivating and easy to read, good for a time when needing a book that draws the reader in easily. This is the first book of a trilogy, two were published already and the third and final coming out next month. I will definitely try the second one too.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

2003, 376 pages.
A few days ago there was a note hanging on my door: there’ll be no water today for a few hours. It is going to be a fairly hot day. I prepared a few bottles of drinking water in the refrigerator, tap water in a few pitchers and some buckets of water to flush the toilet. I am still a little anxious: what if that’s not enough? What if there’ll be some problem and the water supply will not return as promised?
It is frightening to realize how fragile we are and how dependent on modern technology. This is the kind of book that both feed and fed from these fears. What happens if one day all the technology we depend on disappears and we have to take care of ourselves? I’ve a few of those lately, like “The Road” and “The Chrysalids”, but I was lucky to keep the best for last, because this book has so much more, and it is so well written, so that it didn’t feel like recycling a used idea.
The story begins with “Snow man”, a man who wakes up on a tree, and seems to live in a world with no technology or modern civilization, where he has to fend for himself in the wild nature. We go back with his memory to his childhood, before the world turned into what it is in his present.
The book reveals the details gradually, along the story line, and any additional detail I will give here will be a spoiler and reduce the pleasure of reading, guessing, and finding out what happened and how. So I will try to write very generally without revealing too much.
Snow-man childhood passed in a world very similar to ours, or what it might look like in the near future, when the global warming and over population will continue to take its toll, and generic engineering will make more development. The author has wonderful imaginative inventions of how things look like in this world.
The story is written in a non-linear form. We start with Snow-mans’ present, go back to his past with his memory, and sometimes to other people’s past, about which he learns while talking to them in his past. Meanwhile we advance with Snow-man’s present. Questions are answered gradually along the way, only to raise new questions and to explain the opening point of the story. Usually I am wary of this kind of story, because when there are so many questions, it is not always clear and the end if all of them were answered, but not in this case. Though there were many questions and mysteries I never felt confused along the book, and at the end I felt that all the questions are answered. It takes a lot of skill to write a book in this form that is still very readable and intriguing, and Atwood did it so well.
This is not an easy read. It is frightening, and it’s so real that it raises the question – could it really happen? But it is well worth it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Maus - Art Spiegelman

“The Complete Maus” contains the two books:
Maus – A Survivor’s Tale – My Father Bleeds History – first published in 1986
Maus – A Survivor’s Tale – And Here My Troubles Began – first published in 1991
The complete book has 296 pages.
Art tells the story of his father, Vladek, during the World War II as a Polish Jew and his love to his first wife and the author’s mother Anja, and in the present, in Rego Park, NY, and his relationship with his second wife Mala and his son, Art, the author. It is a comic book. The Jews are painted as mice. The Polish as pigs. The Germans as cats and the Americans as dogs.
It is the first time I read a comic book as an adult. Telling a holocaust story as a comic book seemed like a very strange and unfitting idea to me, but I read a great review of the book, and read the first chapter online and liked it a lot, so I decided to try the book.
I thought the book was excellent. I can totally understand why it won the Pulitzer Prize. By moving from the present to the past, showing at the same time the story of the son who tries to learn the history of his parents and deals with a very difficult father, and the story of the Jews in Poland when their world collapsed and they struggled to survive in a cruel and senseless reality that seems too horrid to be real. The author also talks about the writing process itself, how he struggles to keep his father’s stories in order, to sway him from complaining about the present back to his past.
As the subtitle says, we have the story of a survivor, one of very few, while so many others didn’t come out alive from the holocaust hell. It is amazing again and again to learn how Vladek survived, how he had to use all his intellect, talents and resourcefulness to escape death and destruction. In the present story, we can see how all the qualities he had to adopt in order to survive make it so difficult for him and for others around him. Like someone says in the book, part of him didn’t really survive. He is extremely tight with money. He cannot see food wasted. He insists on doing everything on his own, or with the help he demands from his son, instead of paying for someone to do the job. It is so tragic to see how he cannot let go of these qualities that helped him stay alive even though it makes it impossible for people who love him to be at his side for long periods of time. The author also shows how, like many others who suffered from racial hate and discrimination in the worse possible way, he is blind to these qualities in himself, when burst in anger because Art’s wife takes a black hitchhiker – doesn’t she know better? He could have stolen all their groceries! When she confronts him and asks him how he can say that after all he’s gone through, he is shocked at the comparison of blacks and Jews.
The book also shows the desperate quest of the author to find out about his mother, who killed herself when he was 20 years old. He can only hear about her story indirectly from his father. It is much less clear how she survived the hell. Unlike Vladek, she was frail, thin, week. Art, and the reader, will never know for sure.
The story is very hard to read. No matter how much I read, hear and watch about these terrible years, every story is shocking all over again. What people had to go through, not by some natural caused disaster, but by the cold systematic cruelty of other people, is impossible to grasp. It doesn’t make it easier that this book is a comic book. On the contrary, since it makes the events so alive and real, it makes it worse. It is a hard read, but it is worth it, this is one of the best Holocaust books I’ve read.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Artemis Fowl - Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl is an Irish 12 year-old genius kid. He comes from a crime family. His father disappeared during a scheme to take the family's fortune and his mother did not recover since then. He decides to regain the family fortune by deciphering the fairies' secrets and get a hold of the legendary fairies' gold treasures.

He has a butler/body guard with impressing military training that helps him with his schemes with no questions. He knows he can count on the genius kid that masters all technology and gadgets.

I had mixed feeling about his book. It is a cute fantasy book that combines the fairy world with up to date technology and gadgets. It also has a nice portion of humor. However, the story wasn't interesting enough for me as adult (even as an adult who loved other kids' books like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson), but I cannot recommend it to kids because it is so violent,  contains too much military content, and presents criminals as heroes.

I guess that for parents who don't mind exposing their young kids to such materials it will be a good book for 9 or 10 year olds.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wench - Dolen Perkins-Valdez

2010, 304 pages
Four women, Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu meet at the Tawawa resort in Ohio. They are all black slaves coming from the south with their masters, allegedly to clean for them, cook for them and take care of them, but actually as their mistresses, or their sex slaves. That is, all but Lizzie, who is really in love with Drayle, her master, and sure that he is in love with her as well.
The visit to the slave-free state opens their eyes to things they didn’t know or didn’t want to think about before, and they all have to make some tough choices.
The story focuses on Lizzie, and after the first summer in the resort, we go back to Lizzie’s story and to her life in Drayle’s plantation and their relationship. The story then continues to the next summer visits to the resort and the meeting with the other women in the same situation.
The book does a good job in describing this side of slavery, not being the master of one’s own body, not being able to take care of the children that are born as a result to this relationship, children that are also the property of the master, who can sell them if he wishes to.
I found the story line a little confusing. Scenes don’t always end in a clear way and it feels like they are abruptly cut. The jump in time from the first summer to Lizzie’s past and then back to the second summer didn’t work well for me and I wasn’t sure what happened first and what happened next. Some parts were very interesting and touching but others were a little boring and I wondered what are they supposed to contribute to the story. In general it seems like a collection of drafts, some of them very good, some of them are less good, that now should be composed to one good story. Sometimes I felt the story slides towards the “yellowish” zone of sex and violence to attract attention.
I also felt the characters are a little stereotyped. Almost all whites were extremely mean, almost all blacks were extremely good. I wrote in my review of my previous book, “The Forty Days of Musa Dagh” about the Armenian genocide, that what makes this book excellent is that it does not fall to cliché and stereotypes where all good people are on one side and all bad people are on the other side. Too bad I cannot say the same about this book. It may not be fair to compare them but that’s how it turned out, that I read them one after the other so I can’t help it.
All in all I enjoyed the book, in spite of some weaknesses I mentioned above, and I recommend it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh - Franz Werfel

First published in 1933, 817 pages, originally written in German.
On the back cover of this book, it is written that this book is a masterpiece. I see this title refers to too many books, but in this case, I totally agree.
Gabriel Bagradian was born to a rich Armenian family in the village Yoghunoluk in the Ottoman Empire, near the mountain Musa Dagh (“mount of Moses”), but he moved to Paris, and lived there with his French wife and son. He served the army as an officer, but he enjoys living the life of a care-free intellectual. After his brother’s death he comes back to the family’s house in the Armenian village with his wife and son. But it turned out it was a very bad timing. It is during the World War I, and the Ottomans decided to deport the Armenians from their villages, claiming they are not loyal and pose a danger on the Ottoman Empire during the war. The Armenians are supposed to be moved to a new location in the eastern deserts, but most of them die on the long way there, walking by foot all day long, with hardly any food.
When information starts to reach the villages near the mountain, the villagers decide to go up the mountain and besieged there. They know they don’t have much chance against the Turkish army, but at least if they die, as would probably happen, they will die a quick death as free men, instead of slow death of starvation and exhaustion.
The story is fictional but it is based on true events. If it were a fictional story written at a later time, I would think it got inspired by the Jewish Holocaust in Europe, and the story of Massada. It was horrifying to read descriptions so familiar from witnesses of the events that took place just a few years after the book was published.
The story could have lapsed into the cliché of good against evil, heroes against cowards. But it doesn’t, and that’s the greatness of the story. It tells about ordinary people caught in a terrible time. Some of them are brave, some are not, some are generous and good-hearted and some are cruel, some petty and some can think of the big picture, and they all exist on all sides. The characters can change, behave one way at one moment, and another way other moment. It shows very well with the character of Juliette, Gabriel’s wife, a French woman from Paris who finds herself in the middle of this turmoil. The story shows her coping with these extreme circumstances in a very real and touching way.
The story also shows how people’s behavior change when torn from their natural surroundings to an isolated unnatural location and situation, how true nature of people comes out, what the change of game rules does to different people. In this aspect it reminded me of another book, “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. This book does not necessary says that all the bad sides of human nature comes out at these circumstances. But certainly everyone are tested, characteristics that were hidden under society rules can now come out on one hand, and talents that weren’t necessary before can be found on the other hand, but the drastic change that this situation forces on people is sometimes hard to accept.
It is not an easy read, and it took me a while to read. But it is well worth it. I found the book very touching at times and it even made me cry at some of them. There are so many clever insights along the book, about being different, about identity, about being a minority, about cooperation with evil or trying to fight it. Too bad history is bound to repeat itself.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening - L. J. Smith

1991, 254 pages.
This is the first book of “The Vampire Diaries” series. I was curious after watching the tv series so I decided to read the first book. It should be clear that the tv series does not follow the plot of the book. It is a different story. Some of the characters of the tv series are based on some characters from the book or a combination of more than one character, and some plot line ideas were used and changed. But the book is very different than the tv series.
In the book’s main plotline there’s Elena, a high school student, blond with blue eyes, the queen of her school, “the girl all the boys want and all the girls want to be”. She can get anyone she wants, but she doesn’t want anyone, until she meets handsome and mysterious Stephan, a new student in the school who prefers to keep to himself and stay away, especially from Elena.
The story goes between Elena’s point of view and Stephan’s, and when we get to his part, we learn that he’s a vampire, he tries to feed off animals and not humans, and he stays away from Elena both because she is a too big temptation for him to drink her blood, and because she has an amazing resemblance to Katherine, the girl he used to love in Italy a few centuries ago, in a love triangle with his older brother Damon, a love triangle that ended tragically.
The plot continues in two parallel times, in the now – the story of Stephan and Elena, in the past – the story of Stephan, Damon and Katherine.
I wasn’t really drawn into the story. Though it was written long before Twilight, it felt like a pale imitation to it. The story tries to be frightening and mysterious right from the beginning, starts with the sentence “Dear Diary, Something awful is going to happen today.” Before we know anything about the characters or the story. It just doesn’t work.
The characters are very shallow, with no depth to them, and they do not develop throughout the story. It is also not easy to like them. Elena is the bitchy queen of the school who hurts the boy who loves her and uses the girls who admire her.
It is a very easy and quick read, a short book that’s written in a simple and non-complicated way, so if you need a readable book that doesn’t take too much effort and concentration this could work for you. I decided not to go on to the next books in the series and settle for the tv series.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

2006, 256 pages
A father and son wander through a ruined country, all burned and empty of almost any resources, trying to find their way to the sea, to the south where it’s warmer, not really knowing what they hope to find there. All they have is a cart with some groceries, a gun with two bullets and each other. Usually they don’t meet any other people. When they do, they are very careful, because they are probably of “the bad” people.
Usually when I read a book I expect to identify with the characters, to feel what they feel, to fear what they fear and hope what they hope. In this case, the only way to make it through the book was to keep myself detached, to remind myself this is only a book, these are not real people and the events are not really happening. The book is like a parent’s worst nightmare, and worse. Not only does civilization ceases to exist, so there is no way to rely on society to provide the basic needs, but also the nature is all ruined, the water dirty, the vegetation all dead, and all animals are gone. The colors are only a far away memory, all is black and gray, the sun is not visible and even in the middle of the day light is dim and poor. The father cannot provide the basic needs of his son – food, shelter, security, hope for the future, trust of order and justice in the world. He has to see him going thinner, quieter, sadder. When they talk, he tries to give him a reason to go on, to survive, and teach him how to do this in the tough reality they live in. The boy clings to the fact, or desperate hope, that they are the good ones, they hold the fire, they will not turn to evil ways even if it means they will not survive. He insists on helping the less fortunate than them, even if that means getting closer to starving.
Though the book is short it draws the reader right in. It describes this hopeless apocalyptic world in a very realistic and believable way. Their reality is vividly described, if it can be said on such a colorless world. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone, especially a parent, who cannot detach himself from a story he reads, because it can truly be haunting and heartbreaking. But it is a great book, though it is short it remains in the mind of the reader long after it is done.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Red Pyramid (The Kane Chronicles, Book 1) - Rick Riordan

2010, 528 pages
I enjoyed a lot reading the Percy Jackson series and I was looking forward for the next series by Riordan. The Egyptian mythology always fascinated me as much as the Greek one or even more and I expected a lot from the Kane Chronicles which is based on the Egyptian mythology. The book was cute, fast-paced and full of action and humor, but I wasn’t dawned by it as I was by the Percy Jackson series.
In this book we have Carter and Sadie, brother and sister. Their mother died when they were 8 and 6, and since then Carter travels around the world with his Archaeologist father, while Sadie stays with her grandparents in London. They only see each other twice a year.
When Sadie is 12 and Carter is 14, Carter and his father visit Sadie, and they all go together to the British Museum. But the father has more than educational intentions, and things go terribly wrong. Carter and Sadie have to fend for themselves, save themselves and by the way also the world, while learning surprising facts about themselves and the Egyptian mythology, that turns out to be more than just old stories.
The story is told by Carter and Sadie, in turns. I always prefer one teller, and a story has to be really good to make me identify with only character (did someone say “Song of Ice and Fire?”…) . It did not happen here. The story starts with the action right away, with no chance to learn about the main characters before they start running for their lives and fighting scary monsters, and that also interfered with the process of falling for the characters and feeling for them before the action starts.
Just like in Percy Jackson, the colliding worlds of 2000’s teenagers and an ancient mythological world is a source for many funny situations and jokes, but it all seemed a little recycled and tired, and I didn’t find it as funny as I found the previous series.
One part really disturbed me at the beginning of the book, where it was explained that the existence of the “gods” does not contradict the one and only “God”, because they are all His creation. I found it a redundant flattery to the believers among the readers, and I don’t remember anything like that in the Percy Jackson series, nor do I remember any problems for believers to read and enjoy Percy Jackson.
All in all it was, like I said, cute, a nice read, but I do not think I will go on to the next books of the series.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Twilight - Stephenie Meyer

2006, 544 pages
It is very embarrassing for me to write the next sentence: I loved the book. Why embarrassing? Because it is a young adult book. The heroin is a 17 years old high school student, and it talks about first love. My interests should be a little more… mature, shouldn’t they? And if all that isn’t bad enough, I didn’t just love the book. I fell in love with it. I was completely submerged it in. I couldn’t let it out of my hand. I read all of its 500+ pages in two days. I can’t remember too many times such think has happened to me.
So what’s going on in this book – Bella comes back to Forks, WA to live with her father. Her mom left the town with her when she was a baby, but now she decides to go back there, for reasons that become clear later in the book, though she despises this green and rainy place, and much prefers hot and arid Phoenix where she lives with her mother since the divorce. In the new small-town school a group of extremely good looking boys and girls catches her attention. They sit together in the cafeteria and don’t socialize with the other kids. She gives special attention to Edward, who is good looking, and as she finds out soon enough, also smart, brave, strong, with some more surprises. It all looks too good to be true, and indeed she finds out he is not exactly human. But this will not stand in the way of such strong first love.
It was very easy for me to identify with Bella. She is addicted to reading. She loves literature and biology in school and does not need to work too hard to do well in them. She suffers from lack of coordination, and that makes her something between a total failure to danger to the surrounding in ball games (reminds me of the bowling game when I threw the ball backward, to the horror of my friends who stood behind me), and always feels like an outsider.
Wuthering Heights is Bella’s favorite book and it shows well in the story, with her romantic attraction to the mysterious, dark and dangerous.
The writer said in an interview she didn’t read almost any vampire book or watched any vampire series of movies and she tries very hard not to be influenced by them in the vampire world she built in the saga. And I am so glad she did it. Forget the disgusting smelly creatures of “The Historian”. Meyer’s vampires are divinely gorgeous, smell great, show special talents mentally and physically. If they only solve the problem of thirst to human blood, they will be perfect.
It is only the first book of the series. I already uploaded the next one to my kindle. It’s night, everybody’s fast asleep. In the quiet and dark it is easier to believe unnatural things than in daylight. Perfect time to cuddle on the reading recliner and start the second book. If it is as good as the first, I will probably not be seen for the next couple of days, and in the meantime, please do not disturb.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Mercy - Toni Morrison

2008, 178 pages.
US of the 1690s. Florence is an African slave, separated from her mother and baby brother as part of a debt settlement between her previous master, Senor, to Sir, her new master, and arrived to what will become New York state, a wild country, forested and full of wild animals, to help the mistress and the two other slaves to hold the house and the ranch.
The story alternates between Florence and the other two slaves, when she goes to find someone whose identity we find later in the story. Florence tells the story in her own unique language, faulty English since it was not her mother’s tongue. She learned English only when she arrived to her current location when she was a child. The story starts with Florence’s monologue in the present, and the exact circumstances of how she get there, and what happened in the past, we find out gradually during the story, so I will not spoil them here.
The story sounds very intriguing, but the myriad of characters in this short book, and also the associative and confusing at times style of the book, where explanations to things that are said arrive much later, stopped me from identifying with the characters and get into the story, and I ended it with an indifferent feeling. The same feeling I had in her only other book that I read, “Beloved”, and I think her style is just not for me. In spite of all the prizes she got, her books are just not for me. I also lacked some context and historical background. The story is told through the eyes of the characters, which lived in this period and obviously didn’t feel the need to explain their surroundings. This was another reason it was difficult for me to get into the story and “live” it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Brodeck – Philippe Claudel

 Brodeck – Philippe Claudel
Original French name: La Rapport de Brodeck

Brodeck came back to his little village after the war. He spent the war in a terrible camp, surrounded by cruelty and death, and hardly survived, gaining strength from thinking of coming back to his wife, Emilia, who stayed in the village.
Though he misses his village and sees it as his home, he wasn’t born there. He escaped death as a child in a faraway place, saved by an old woman, and arrived to the village with her. He is different, forever the stranger.
Brodeck is given an assignment from the village people. He has to write a report about a terrible thing that happened to a mysterious man who appeared in the village after the war. Brodecks writes the report, but he also talks about the nightmare he went through, going back and forth in time between the story of the stranger in the village and his own story.
There are no names to the places and events in the book, but it is clear it takes place in a border area between French and Germany, the war is the Second World War, and that Brodeck is a Jew.
This anonymity is not accidental. It is a big part of the message in the book. The evil can be found within anyone. Anyone can find himself as the murderer and the torturer. And anyone can find himself as the outsider, the victim, the other that is to blame for everything.
I found this book very important in a time when there is a tendency to treat these terrible times as a unique event, caused by non-human creatures, and targeted toward only one group. The lesson should be universal, and everyone should be very careful from being the victim or the torturer at the same time.
The book is not easy to read. It has some very disturbing descriptions, and very sad parts. Yet I find it worth reading. It’s interesting and thought provoking.

If you buy the book from the link at the top, I may get a small fee.