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.
Author: Ben Fountain
Title: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Publication Info: HarperCollins (2012)
Summary/Review: This review should be called “Liam Sullivan’s Long Summertime Read” because it took me months to complete reading. The slothfulness of the read should reflect more on the reader than the novel, and in fact the intricate level of detail in the book may be appreciated by a slow read. Fountain’s novel tells the story of the Bravo Squad whose firefight in Iraq caught on video goes viral making the ten young men instant heroes brought back to the US to be celebrated and used for a promotional tour. The majority of the novel takes place on Thanksgiving Day at a Dallas Cowboys game where the Bravos are part of the pre-game and halftime festivities and is told from the perspective of the young Texan infantryman Billy Lynn. There’s little nuance in Fountain’s writing as this is clearly an anti-war novel with a pile-on of hypocritical people using the Bravos to advance their agenda. The incidents of the novel also grow increasingly absurd including Billy’s fling with a cheerleader and the surreal halftime show where the Bravos support the performance of Destiny’s Child. My ultimate summation of this book is good but not great, where the small details stand out better than the overarching themes of the novel.
Pride of Baghdad (2006) by Brian K. Vaughn and Niko Henrichom is a graphic novel based on a true story of four lions escaping the Baghdad Zoo after an American bombing raid. Unfortunately the premise is better than the execution. Mind you, the illustration for this book are gorgeous in their detail, even in the grim and gory parts. In my little experience with graphic novels it seems that more time spent on the art the less the story is fleshed out in an interesting way. That seems to be the case here as the anthropomorphic big cats head out on their adventure into somewhat contrived situations and corny dialog. It’s not as bad as all that, it’s a great story, I just think it could be better. I don’t want to give things away but the most moving part for is simply the words imposed over the last two page spreads.
In 2019 I found some old Word documents with movie reviews I wrote back before I had a blog. I’m posting each review backdated to the day I wrote it.
Title: Control Room
Release Date: January 2004
Director: Jehane Noujaim
Production Company: Noujaim Films
Insightful film on the surface is a documentary about the Arabic news network Al-Jazeera during the first month of the Iraq war, is actually an investigation into how news is delivered and what Truth is. One of the more thought-provoking films I’ve ever seen.