Posts Tagged ‘Books’

Book Review: Cousin K by Yasmina Khadra

Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Algeria
Author: Yasmina Khadra
Translator: Donald Nicholson-Smith and Alyson Waters
Title: Cousin K
Publication Info: Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2013
ISBN: 9780803234932
Summary/Review: Yasmina Khadra is the female pen name for the male Algerian author Mohammed Moulessehoul, which he adopted to avoid censorship of the Algerian army.  His real identity was only revealed when he moved to France in 2001.  This thin, stark novel tells the story of a boy in an Algerian village whose father is killed is a traitor, whose elder brother is often absent with the army, and whose mother is dismissive and neglectful of him.  The titular Cousin K is a girl who comes to visit for the summer who becomes the object of the boy’s affection, but she in turn is cruel and mocks him.  The novel creates a sympathetic portrait of a wounded boy which unravels as he’s grows up with shocking results.

Recommended booksThe Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Rating: ** 1/2

 

Book Review: Life Form by Amélie Nothomb

Around the World for a Good Book selection for Belgium
AuthorAmélie Nothomb
Translator: Alison Anderson
TitleLife Form
Publication Info: Europa Editions (2013)
ISBN: 9781609450885
Summary/Review:

Amélie Nothomb was born in Japan to Belgian parents, lives in Paris, and writes about the United States’ war in Iraq.  That’s the kind of worldliness I like for an Around the World for a Good Book selection.  Nothomb creates a fictional version of herself in this novel (how true-to-life, I do not know) in which she carries on a correspondence with an American soldier in Iraq, Melvin Mapple.  The soldier is aware that Nothomb (the fictional one, at least) responds to letters from her readers and that she may be a sympathetic voice.  Over the course of the letters, Mapple reveals that he and other soldiers react to the war through eating and enormous weight gain.  Mapple sees it as a means of protest, forcing the military to pay for food and increasingly larger clothing.  As the correspondence continues, the absurdity increases so that Mapple’s obesity is treated as an artistic statement.   Nothomb creates in herself an unsympathetic sounding board for the pathetic and grotesque Mapple.  The book works well both as a satire of American foreign policy and obesity problem, but also is a gripping read with a number of interesting twists.  On a literary level it works with the ideas of language and reality.

Recommended booksThe Night Listener by Armistead Maupin, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, and Every Inch of Her by Peter Sheridan
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: The Man of Feeling by Javier Marias

Around the World for a Good Book selection for Spain
Author: Javier Marias
Translator: Margaret Jull Costa
TitleThe Man of Feeling
Publication Info: New Directions (2003)
ISBN: 0811215318
Summary/Review:

This short meditative book is narrated from the perspective of a young opera singer who travels across Europe for performances.  On one of his journeys he shares a train cabin with an attractive woman, her husband, and a man who works as their handler (for lack of a better word).  It seems painfully obvious that the narrator will lust after the woman, that the power-hungry husband won’t like that, and the handler will play both sides against one another, because that is exactly what happens.  Marias narrator is not a sympathetic character, even as he details the reprehensible behavior of the others in this quartet, he still comes off as the worst.  The saving grace is that Marias – and his translator – makes good use of lyric writing with a few turns of the flowery word and a narrative built on a dreamlike quality.  This is not a book to read for the plot or the characters, just the well-crafted prose.  Marias describes his work accurately in the epilogue as ‘a love story in which love is neither seen nor experienced, but announced and remembered.”
Rating: **

World Cup of Reading

So, the FIFA World Cup ended over a month ago, but I still used this year’s tournament as inspiration to revive my ongoing Around the World for a Good Book project.  The basic gist is that I’m attempting to read a work of fiction (in English or English translation) from every country in the world.  So far I’ve been able to read literature from more fifty nations, but I’ve stalled out the past couple of years.

My goal for 2014 is to try to read a book for all 32 nations represented in this years World Cup.  Luckily, countries I’ve read abundantly – such as England and the United States – as well as other countries I’ve read for the project were represented in the tournament, so I will only have 12 books to read to complete the field.

Here are the books I’ve read, or plan to read, for the World Cup nations of 2014.  As always, I’m open to suggestions.

 

Book Review: American heretics : Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and the history of religious intolerance by Peter Gottschalk

Author: Peter Gottschalk
Title: American heretics : Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and the history of religious intolerance by
Publication Info: New York: Palgrave McMillan (2013)
ISBN: 9781137278296
Summary/Review:

I received a free early reviewers copy of this book via the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

As Americans, we proudly proclaim our religious tolerance and maintain that our country was built on religious freedom.  While many forms of religious expression have flourished in the United States, Gottschalk reminds of the many instances of religious intolerance in our country from earliest settlement to the present day.  The book is divided into seven chapters focusing on:

  1. Puritan persecution of Quakers in colonial Massachusetts
  2. The struggles of Irish Catholic immigrants in Protestant-dominated cities in the 19th century
  3. The Ghost Dance and the extermination of the Sioux
  4. 20th prejudice against Jews by the Ku Klux Klan, Henry Ford, and immigration restrictions
  5. The Latter Day Saints struggle against violent opposition in the 19th century and how the political careers of George and Mitt Romney show a growing acceptance.
  6. The Branch Davidians and the vilifying of outsider groups as cults
  7. Islamophobia in the wake of the September 11th attacks

The book is short for all the topics it covers and Gottschalk really only touches upon these various topics.  The author can get oddly deep into some parts of the topics while being very broad at other times.  I also found it troubling how much he defends the Branch Davidians as a persecuted minority rather than recognizing that child rape and their vast military arsenal were a threat to the community at large.

It’s an interesting overview, and if you have a familiarity with American history there shouldn’t be too many surprises.  But if you think that religious groups have always been welcomed in the United States, you’ll want to read this book.
Recommended books: Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America by Steven Waldman and The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Doing Germany by Agnieszka Paletta

AuthorAgnieszka Paletta
TitleDoing Germany
Publication Info: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (2013)
Summary/Review:

This is a book I idly picked up from a Kindle sale, because I enjoyed travelling to Germany.  What a surprise that the author declares early on that she never had any interest in visiting German.  As a Polish-Canadian, moving back and forth between the two nations, Paletta’s real love is Italy.  She only ends up in Germany after meeting the man she calls M in a Cracow nightclub, falling in love, and deciding to move into his Munich apartment for three months.  That three months turns to years as the couple are engaged, married, do a lot of house shopping, and have a child.  Along the way, Paletta records the cultural adjustments of living in Germany.  Her stories are episodic, a bit gossipy in tone, and she seems unusually wed to traditional gender stereotypes.  I could offer criticisms, but forget that.  Everyone thinks that they can write a book about their travels and life abroad, but few do, so good for her.  And Agnieszka seems like a fun person who’d I’d like to hang out with, perhaps to go dancing.  So it’s a breezy travel/memoir/life adventure story, and I’ll leave at that.

Favorite Passages:

“I can also relate to keeping one’s roots and traditions alive and not changing your culture just because you’ve changed borders. Canada is great that way – it promotes multiculturalism. Germany is more like the US: once you cross the border, you’re expected to drop everything and mould yourself into a citizen of your new homeland.”

“Unlike on that typical bike, you don’t sit leaning forward; you sit up like a lady, much like in a chair. Therefore, you don’t crane your neck to look up; your head is as God meant it to be – straight on. It makes cycling dignified and comfortable.”

“M tells me it’s impolite to stare and talk to strangers here. You don’t ask how their day is going, how they are feeling. Basically, you don’t intrude because it’s none of your business. So like, they’re not trying to be rude or cold, but polite. They say good morning or God bless you but not how are you – that’s a private matter and none of their business.” (Note from Liam: this is probably why I like Germany.  They follow the same rules as Bostonians).

Recommended books: My ‘Dam Life by Sean Condon
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: The Information by James Gleick

AuthorJames Gleick
TitleThe Information
Publication Info: New York : Books on Tape, 2011
Summary/Review:

The Information is a sweeping historical / scientific / technological account of information across time and disciplines.  From talking drums, language, DNA, telegraphs, and bytes to  Claude Shannon, Charles Babbage, Ada Byron, Samuel Morse, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins and John Archibald Wheeler.  It’s all very fascinating although it gets more complex for a lay reader (that is, me) to understand as it goes along.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Walking Dead: All Out War (vol. 20) by Robert Kirkman

Author: Robert Kirkman
TitleThe Walking Dead: All Out War (vol. 20)
Publication Info: Image Comics (2014)
Summary/Review:

It’s called All Out War, part 1, so there’s no expectation that this would be all about war and that the war will not end.  Still, I’m reading at this point just to tread water until the Negan story is completed and they move on to something else.  Hopefully, at that point the story will show something interesting about continuing survival rather than contrived violence.  On the other hand, maybe they’ll just keep going with All Out War, part 3!

Rating: **

Book Review: “Guns” by Stephen King

Author: Stephen King
Title: “Guns”
Publication Info: Philtrum Press (2013)
Summary/Review:

I downloaded this long essay for the Kindle app on my phone.  Author Stephen King ruminates about the gun debate in the United States from the predictable media response to a mass shooting, violence in American culture, and explaining his reasons for pulling his book Rage from publication.  While admitting to being a gun owner himself, King proposes that further regulation of firearms is necessary in the United States.  And he believes that the NRA, conservatives, and others opposed to gun control need to be involved in creating these restrictions.  King’s arguments for firearms regulation are sound, but there’s nothing that hasn’t already been put forward.  Similarly, while he addresses the necessity of pro- and anti-gun control factions working together, I doubt that his words will convince anyone to change their views.

Favorite Passages:

My book did not break Cox, Pierce, Carneal, or Loukaitis, or turn them into killers; they found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken. Yet I did see Rage as a possible accelerant, which is why I pulled it from sale. You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it.

Superhero movies and comic books teach a lesson that runs directly counter to the culture-of-violence idea: guns are for bad guys too cowardly to fight like men.

The assertion that Americans love violence and bathe in it daily is a self-serving lie promulgated by fundamentalist religious types and America’s propaganda-savvy gun-pimps. It’s believed by people who don’t read novels, play video games, or go to many movies. People actually in touch with the culture understand that what Americans really want (besides knowing all about Princess Kate’s pregnancy) is The Lion King on Broadway, a foul-talking stuffed toy named Ted at the movies, Two and a Half Men on TV, Words with Friends on their iPads, and Fifty Shades of Grey on their Kindles. To claim that America’s “culture of violence” is responsible for school shootings is tantamount to cigarette company executives declaring that environmental pollution is the chief cause of lung cancer.

Ididn’t pull Rage from publication because the law demanded it; I was protected under the First Amendment, and the law couldn’t demand it. I pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do. Assault weapons will remain readily available to crazy people until the powerful pro-gun forces in this country decide to do a similar turnaround. They must accept responsibility, recognizing that responsibility is not the same as culpability. They need to say, “We support these measures not because the law demands we support them, but because it’s the sensible thing.”

Recommended books: Hell’s Abyss, Heaven’s Grace: War and Christian Spirituality by Lawrence Hart
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Where God Was Born by Bruce Feiler

Author:Bruce Feiler
TitleWhere God Was Born
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2005)
ISBN: 9780060888572
Summary/Review:

Feiler’s book is a unique combination of travelogue, history, theology, and personal growth.  Feiler documents his journeys to Israel, Iraq, and Iran to visit the sites of places mentioned in the Hebrew scriptures.  There’s a lot of interesting discussion of the Israelites and the connection to land, but how the religion was born only once they were taken from the land.  There are also hints that the Babylonian captivity was not as bad as depicted in the bible.  Feiler also has an interesting take on David, the flawed hero, who spent many years as a bandit and even collaborated with the enemies of Israel. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the book is when he worships with a Jewish community in Iran who have a surprising amount of religious freedom, something Feiler traces back to the Persian king Cyrus who liberated the Israelites from captivity.  He also traces Zoroastrian influences to the Abrahamic religions to this period.  In the end, Feiler finds in the Bible a blueprint for religious tolerance and understanding that could be followed today.
Rating: ***1/2

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