Saturday, June 27, 2009

In the Courts of the Sun


By Brian D'Amato

Jed is a Maya who had to flee his homeland to avoid persecution by the repressive government. His parents were murdered and his early life was so traumatic that it affected his personality adversely, making him a little backward when it comes to personal relationships. But offsetting this backwardness is his intuitive understanding of games and game theory which he has used to create a system that enables him to beat the market in commodities and thereby make millions. The game he uses to give him the competitive advantage is an ancient Maya game taught to him by his mom called the Sacrifice Game. It's a form of divination to look at the future.
An old Maya book has been found and in it are details of events that it accurately predicted, using the Sacrifice Game. The final event of the book is the end of the world in December 2012. The people who found and translated the book are afraid its prediction of the end of the world will come true and they decide they have to do whatever it takes to stop it. They need to know how to play the Sacrifice Game better in order to look at what will cause the end of the world. Jed is an expert Sacrifice Game player but as good as he is he knows that he doesn't have the expertise of the ancient Maya.
The scientists need to travel into the past to find out how to play the Sacrifice Game better, but time travel is impossible. Still, they have figured out a technique that basically beams a human's consciousness back in time into the brain of a living person in the past. Since Jed is an expert at the Sacrifice Game and since he is eager to go back for his own personal reasons he gets chosen to be piped back in time to 664 CE.
But when his consciousness arrives there it turns out it entered the wrong person. It was supposed to enter the Maya ruler's brain. Instead it entered the brain of a stand-in for the ruler who is scheduled to shortly die in some kind of religious ritual. How can Jed find out what he needs to know if the body he is in will soon be dead?

This is a huge book, almost 900 hundred pages long. It goes into endless detail, especially concerning the Mayans and their civilization. There are also gruesome torture scenes described in minute detail which are pretty disgusting. Most of the book centers around Jed in the past in his struggles to simply survive and also to fulfill his mission. It goes on and on and I simply got fed up. One description of a Maya city goes on for pages and pages. I don't need or want that much information. Sure, the descriptions of Maya society are fascinating to a point. But after awhile, I stopped caring. In fact, I just skimmed the last third of the book, just wanting to get it over with. Then when I get to the end, it says, "End of Book 1." Yikes! Book 1 was plenty too much for me. I can't see myself reading Book 2, unless the author finds himself an editor who has a cure for word diarrhea, something many authors today suffer from. Seems like any more editors are afraid to edit!
For another review see BSC.

The Nanny Diaries


By Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Needing some cash, a college student takes on the literally thankless task of being a nanny to the young son of a very affluent family. The boy, Grayer, liked his previous nanny and at first is resentful of the new nanny. But the nanny eventually wins him over and develops a close and loving relationship with Grayer. Which would be fine except for the parents...
The dad is a selfish, self-involved, high-powered business man who has little time or interest in either his son, or it turns out later, his current wife. And this wife, sensing her precarious position in her husband's interest, has little time or interest in the son she spawned in order to cement her relationship with the wealthy, rich hubby. Both these people are monsters of selfishness but the wife is one of the most demanding and unreasonable employers anyone ever had the misfortune to work for. For, as the nanny finds out, not only is she expected to have the care of the little boy, she is also dragooned into running errands and performing many tasks for the awful mother. When the nanny finds out that the previous nanny was fired for the most trifling of reasons, she realizes that her days are most likely numbered too. But she tries to hang on because she knows that she is the one good thing in little Grayer's life.

This book confirms what we all suspect: rich people suck. The way the nanny is treated and abused and made to feel like garbage and the total selfishness of this couple of creeps is a real revelation. And reading about it makes for a very entertaining story, although the fate of the little boy is sad, stuck with creeps like that for parents. He will never want for anything except love.

For another review see bookreporter.com.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Harley Like a Person


By Cat Bauer

Harley is fourteen and she is positive she is adopted. Her parents assure her she isn't but they get all weird and angry when she wants to see her birth certificate. Plus it isn't exactly a happy home and the strain and secrecy are starting to affect Harley. Soon her grades are slipping and she finds herself in trouble at school, which has never happened before.
But Harley decides she will find out for herself what her parents refuse to tell her. And before she is through she will have lost her best friend but gained a half-sister, lost one boyfriend and gained another and discovered that she has what it takes, not only in tracking down the truth, but revealing her talent as an artist.

This was an OK story. Harley suffers through the usual teenage rebellion and comes out stronger and wiser. I thought her parents reticence just a little unreal. I also didn't find the parents themselves to be very believable. They were more like cardboard cutouts than real people. This story just didn't appeal too me much.

For another review see Teenreads.com.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Growing Up Lutheran


By Janet Letnes Martin and Suzann (Johnson) Nelson

A memoir of all things Lutheran by two women from the heart of Lutheran country, Minnesota, which answers the question: Growing up Lutheran - what does it mean?
Mainly it means a look back at a homey time when the local church played a big part in family life. Set in the 50s and 60s, these authors write of their experiences growing up as part of the close-knit Lutheran community. Meant to be humorous, and it is mildly humorous, still it provides an interesting look inside the Lutheran experience for those unfamiliar with Lutheranism. Includes many B&W photos.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

And No Birds Sang


By Farley Mowat

Mowat's memoir of his experiences in World War II during the assault on Sicily and later on Italy. It is a grim and gritty account that puts the reader into the heart of very desperate battles, battles that taught the young soldier that the so-called glory of war is a terrible lie. It's a book well worth reading even as the story works towards its somber conclusion.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Razor's Edge


By W. Somerset Maugham

Set in the decades after World War I, this is the story of a man and a woman and some of the people in their lives. The main focus is Larry, a young American who was a pilot in the war. He saw a good friend die saving Larry and it changed him, it unbalanced him. Just a boy, really, he was forced to confront issues of mortality and the meaning and purpose of life. Coming back from the war, he was foundering and lost and the principles he had been raised on seemed inadequate to address his questions. Having a small fortune to finance his studies, Larry embarks on a search for enlightenment, a search that will take decades.
Before heading off to war Larry had a girl friend, Isabel, daughter of a wealthy broker and after he comes home they decide to marry. But first Larry wants to spend a few years finding himself and Isabel graciously agrees to let him go off to Paris by himself. After awhile, hoping he has gotten it out of his system, she comes looking for him. Once there, Larry asks her to give up her wealthy lifestyle and join him with his modest income on his search for meaning. But Isabel feels it is Larry's duty as a manly man to quit goofing around and get a job. They part amicably, mainly because Isabel is positive that Larry will miss her and cave in to her wishes. But he doesn't cave. He just disappears, hitting the road and later finding a job working in a coal mine. Manual labor clears his mind, he claims.
So Isabel gives up and marries a worthy boy from back home who loves her dearly and they have a good marriage and children and all is swell except that Isabel is still carrying a torch for Larry.
Isabel is leading the life she wanted until the stock market crash of 1929 ruins her and her husband, who had invested heavily in stock margins. Now she and her family are in Paris living by virtue of her wealthy uncle's charity. (He was smart enough to pull his funds out of the market months before the crash.)
Meanwhile Larry is drifting, searching for the meaning of life. He turns up back in Paris for a short while and meets and old friend from back home, Sophie. Sophie has had an unhappy life and taken to drink and drugs for comfort. Her husband and baby were killed by a drunk driver. Suddenly Larry has a mission - to save Sophie from herself. He talks her into marrying him.
When Isabel finds out about the impending marriage she is pissed. She has this ridiculous fantasy that Larry is a virgin and has never been with any other woman. She wants Larry to remain single so she sabotages Sophie's new-found sobriety and Sophie goes off on a bender and disappears and then Larry disappears once again ending up in India where he finally finds the answers he has been seeking at the feet of a guru.
In contrast with the saintly Larry, we have Isabel's rich uncle, Elliott. Elliott lives for society, to see and be seen with the best people. A man of impeccable taste and manners, Elliott has ingratiated himself into high society. He loves hobnobbing with the upper classes. This is the main goal and focus of Elliott's life. This is his reason for living and he has succeeded. He knows everyone and is invited everywhere and his cup runneth over. His life is offered as a counterpoint to Larry's. Larry's search is presented as worthy and inspiring and dignified and Elliott's life is presented as vain and pointless.

This was not the book for me. When they trot out the mystical mumbo-jumbo, I just got to say, no thanks! I didn't like the Larry character, I thought his behavior was not selfless but selfish. I agreed with Isabel that it was unreasonable of him to ask her to give up wealth and privilege to follow him on his poverty-stricken search for the meaning of life. More than once Larry gives away most of his stuff and then remarks on how "free" it made him feel. I don't understand how a couple of books and some shirts and pants could make him feel tied down. Supposedly the Larry character is based on a real person and if that's the case he must have been something else. Loon is the word that come to mind.
Anyway, the story was pretty good, reading about the lives of the privileged classes, about Isabel, Elliot and Sophie. The appearance of Sophie into the story was a breath of fresh air with her foul mouth and frank sexuality. Back then Sophie was foul and vulgar but now her dialog reads like most people today talk. But when the author goes on and on about Larry's experiences in India, he lost me. All that metaphysical shite, yuck!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built


By Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe's van is on its last legs and she is afraid if she tells her husband he will just junk the van instead of repairing it, not wanting to waste his time on such an old vehicle. Plus Grace Makutsi, Mma Ramotswe's assistant detective has found out that her old enemy and rival, that nasty piece of work Violet Sephotho, has gotten a job at the Double Comfort Furniture Shop. Seems like Violet, an attractive single woman, has decided to settle down and who better than Grace's well-off fiancé, the owner of the Double Comfort Furniture Shop? Grace knows she is outclassed when it comes to looks by the vile Violet, but will her fiancé stay true?
And the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency has an important new client, the owner of a football team who needs to know why his team is suddenly experiencing a losing streak. The owner suspects a traitor is on his team and he wants the two lady detectives to take on the case. Precious and Grace are not too sure they are the right ones to handle the case since neither of them know anything about football. But after talking it over they decide it couldn't hurt to try and so another detective adventure set in the country of Botswana is off and running.

I have enjoyed every book I have read in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series and this book is no exception. Dipping into the lives of these people is both exhilarating and relaxing. For one thing, in these gentle detective stories, you know there will be no gore, no murder, no extreme cruelty, just a good, engrossing and captivating story. It's like a mini-vacation, fun and comfortable and a real good time.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Graduate


By Charles Webb

Benjamin Braddock has graduated from college and he couldn't care less. A child of privilege, his life suddenly seems to him to be a huge waste. His plans to attend graduate school are up in smoke.
But his proud parents are clueless and throw a graduation party were they invite all their friends. Ben attends unwillingly. And just as unwillingly drives one of the guests home in the brand new sports car that his parents bought him for graduation. When he drops the guest off at her house, she talks him in to coming inside for a drink and then she attempts to seduce him, unsuccessfully. As he makes his escape she makes it clear that any time he wants to the woman, Mrs. Robinson, is up for it.
Later, after spending days lazing around the house getting drunk and floating in the backyard swimming pool, Ben calls Mrs. Robinson and they arrange to meet at a hotel. Once in the room, he tries to back out but then Mrs. Robinson talks him into and thus begins their affair which lasts all summer and into the fall. Meanwhile, Benjamin is still sour on life and still freeloading off his very tolerant parents, getting drunk, watching TV and screwing Mrs. Robinson, whose husband is Benjamin's father's business partner.
Mr. Robinson really likes Benjamin and he and Ben's parents pressure Ben into making a date with Mr. Robinson's daughter, Elaine. At first, Ben is churlish and rude and takes Elaine to a strip club for their date. She is hugely embarrassed and starts to weep when the stripper twirls her tassels in Elaine's face. Ben immediately regrets his bad mood and makes amends to Elaine.
Mrs. Robinson get ugly about Ben dating her daughter and threatens to cause him problems if he continues. But Ben has decided that Elaine is to be his bride and he won't take no for an answer, even after Mrs. Robinson tells Elaine that Ben got her drunk and raped her. He pursues Elaine over the objections of the Robinsons, over the objections of his parents, who want to put him in a mental health clinic, and over the objections of Elaine herself, chasing her even as she walks up the aisle to wed another man.

Benjamin Braddock is a creep. Screwing the mom, then chasing after the daughter, abusing his parents' hospitality. When the truth comes out, Mr. Robinson dissolves the business partnership with Mr. Braddock. But what does Benjamin care! He has to do what he has to do and to hell with the consequences. The guy is the epitome of selfishness. He is a single-minded fellow with no thought for how is actions affect the lives of others. Yeah, he gets the girl in the end, but you got to feel sorry for the girl, getting stuck with that jerk. The book has its lighter moments and it's a pretty good story but mainly, with such a repulsive hero, it's hard to care about what happens to him.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Lycanthia or The Children of Wolves


By Tanith Lee

Christian is dying and he wishes to die alone. So he takes himself off to a mansion in France that he has inherited with the desire to shut out the world and then kill himself when he can no longer bear the pain.
It's an uncanny and strange place where this mansion is located and the locals seem fearful and suspicious of Christian. There are peculiar icons and odd crosses and the stained glass window in the church of the Virgin Mary doesn't seem quite right.
Christian then encounters a weird family, the de Lagenays, a man and a woman. They claim to be werewolves and turns out they are. Christian becomes quite involved with these two people, even to the extent of firing the staff at the mansion and letting the de Lagenays move in.
The villagers are not happy to see Christian and the de Lagenays getting so cozy. Christian's ancestors and the de Lagenays have an ancient history and the villagers are worried history is repeating itself. And they are going to stop it, even if they have to commit murder.

This was an OK story. Christian turns out to be selfish and the werewolves turn out to be very nonthreatening. It's hard to see what the villagers are so riled up about, these werewolves are not man-killers. They are only occasionally man-nippers. Anyway, Christian goes his selfish way and the whole thing ends rather sadly. Isn't it irritating when escapist literature tries to take itself too seriously?

New Words

Memento mori: Memento mori is a Latin phrase that may be translated as "Remember that you are mortal," "Remember you will die," "Remember that you must die," or "Remember your death". 'The memento mori of this was intolerably banal to him.'

Galvanic: electric, affected by emotion as if by electricity; thrilling. 'Unbound from its prim butcher's roll, her hair lay over her shoulder blades; coarse, dun peasant hair, but strong and galvanic.'

Auberge: hostel, a hotel providing overnight lodging for travelers. '"Some auberge will be open for business, no doubt."'

Hiroshima


by John Hersey

Hersey interviewed survivors of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. In this book, he describes the lives of six of these survivors and the hell that they experienced from this devastating attack on their community.

While it can't really be called a "good" read, it is more of a grim read, but it is an important book and brings home in detail the human suffering of the victims of war. It is tough going, reading about the horror of these people's lives but it needs to be read.

New Word

Diathermy: Production of heat in a body tissue by a high frequency electrical current. 'He did, however, have all sorts of modern equipment: an x-ray machine, diathermy apparatus, and a fine tiled laboratory.'

Friday, June 12, 2009

Truck A Love Story


By Michael Perry

Perry ruminates on his cooking, his garden, his girlfriend, his friends, his health and his truck. He cooks his food, plants his garden, dates his girlfriend, visits his friends, goes to work and sometimes works on his truck with his brother's help.

Not the most dynamic book ever written, still it muddles along, with Perry commenting on the details of his life. I was expecting something a little more amusing and a little less self-involved. Ultimately the story is about Perry with the truck and everyone else coming in a far second.

New Words

Poppadam: a thin Indian wafer, sometimes described as a cracker or flatbread. 'I have craved coriander and poppadams ever since, but stop short of calling myself a "curryholic."'

Garam Masala: literal meaning is 'hot spice' it's a basic blend of ground spices. 'This one I used, if only to make my own Garam Masala, which sadly came down on the side of sawdust.'

Parotid: the largest of the salivary gland. 'The play of sun and shadow on a grapelike cluster of Sweet Millions miniature tomatoes is so mustily conveyed that your parotids clench at the thought of the skin popping under the pressure of your molars and the subsequent sweet gush of pulp.'

Melisma: A passage of several notes sung to one syllable of text, as in Gregorian chant. 'There are guys on the fire department capable of melisma.'

Occluded: closed or obstructed. Zerk: A grease fitting, which is a small fitting that acts as the connection between a grease gun and the component to be lubricated.
'Faced with an occluded grease zerk, I could replace it, even tune up the threads with a tap wrench.'

Punji: A sharpened bamboo stick set in the ground to wound or impale enemy soldiers. 'True enough: whereas I would quite gladly honeycomb the yard with squirrel-sized punji pits and perch in the walnut tree with a blowgun, Charlie faithfully lugs enough corn into his backyard to feed a half-dozen beefalo."

Rain stick: A percussion instrument that is made from a dried cactus branch that is hollowed out and filled with small pebbles and capped at both ends. 'In the backseats and cargo areas you will spot fishing poles and Frisbees, and here and there a rain stick.'

Falsa blanket: a blanket with a typical Mexican striped design. 'Many of the passengers exit the cars carrying rainbow falsa blankets and Guatemalan tote bags.'

Outro: In music, a portion of music at the end of a song; like an intro, but at the end instead of the beginning. 'The outro on Dwight Yoakam's version of "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues"; a stone fence in Wales; the pale wallpaper in Oscar's apartment in reruns of The Odd Couple; the smell of tinder-dry pine needles warmed by the sun; the first notes of Liszt's Liebestraum no. 3 in A-flat, not that I would recognize the rest of it if I heard it in the dentist's office.'

Hesperides: In Greek mythology, the Hesperides are nymphs who tend a blissful garden where grown golden apples. 'Never mind that the series [The Rockford Files] was shot between 1974 and 1980 and we're hardly talking the garden of the Hesperides.'

Purlins: Framing members that sit on top of rafters, perpendicular to them, designed to spread support to roofing materials. 'A hinged ladder beside the tub leads to a mattress stuffed in a cubby hole wedged between the beams and purlins.'

Papa-san chair: A papasan chair is a large rounded bowl-shaped chair with an adjustable angle similar to that of a futon. 'I once responded to missing an important meeting by hurling the top half of a papa-san chair across the room like a gigantic Frisbee.'

Doula: A support person, usually female, with no medical or midwifery training, who provides emotional assistance to a mother or pregnant couple before, during or after childbirth. 'The doula, a woman I may never meet whose role as I understand it was to operate somewhere between coach and midwife.'

Hyperacusis: An abnormal degree of discomfort or aversion to sounds that would not be regarded as loud by average standards. 'In addition to the eye and the testicle (specifically, its benign epididymal cyst, otherwise known as a lump), my inventory includes sand in the gears of my neck (I find myself checking blind spots in traffic by pulling half a chin-up on the steering wheel and then rotating my cranium, neck and shoulders as a single unit)(very little-old-man), a frayed rotator cuff, persistent tinnitus, hyperacusis, a world-record kidney stone, transient numbness of the left leg, a partially detached clavicle, a little click in my thumb that has lingered since I jammed it in someone's shoulder pads during a Friday night football game in roughly 1982, and yes, here lately, in both big toes but particularly the right, the first twinges of uric acid accumulation.'

Edematous: swollen. '"The white spot looks like it might have been there for a long time, but the rapid onset of your blind spot doesn't jive with slower infections or an edematous process."'

Ameliorism: the desire to solve social problems by reforming individuals; also, responding by making things better. 'I recall that at some point during the discussion Nolte said something about ameliorism and the copper roof on Bob Dylan's mansion, so I am going to read up on these ameliortists and see where that takes me, but at some point you have to ditch the interior yip-yap and grab a shovel.'

Trompe l'oeil: This French term literally means to "trick the eye". It comes from "tromper" meaning to deceive and "l'œil" meaning the eye. The term refers to an object or scene rendered so realistically that the viewer believes they are seeing the actual objects. 'The stage is draped in a vintage hand-painted backdrop that creates a trompe l'oeil forest.'

Sacerdotal: priestly. 'After obtaining the all-clear from the local clerk of courts and the Wisconsin state attorney general herself, Bob submitted an electronic application to the Web site of the Universal Ministries, lately of Milford, Illinois, and withing moments found himself selected, appointed, ordained, and granted the power to perform sacerdotal duties including the legal sanction of marriages in the state of Wisconsin.'

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Crucible


By Arthur Miller

Set in the Salem of 1692, this play takes a look at those infamous witch trials that, based on the testimony of a bunch of hysterical children and duplicitous adults, resulted in the deaths of many innocent citizens.
As portrayed by the author, the main impetus behind the accusations was one girl's desire to destroy her lover's wife, backed up by others who had motives of greed, envy and jealousy. This is just dramatization, since the real girl was only 11 at the time, a tad young to have taken a lover, much less plot her rival's death by false accusation. Still, the argument behind the drama is true today, that hysteria and accusation must not be an excuse to behave in gross and uncivilized manner, condemning people without any solid evidence, pressuring people to confess to crimes and deeds they did not commit.
The odd thing about the witch trials is that those accused who confessed to witchcraft were not put to death, it was only those people who refused to confess who were executed. I would think that would be a pretty strong argument for one's innocence, that they would rather die than confess to deeds they did not commit. But apparently the authorities thought otherwise back then.
Anyway, I have read that the impetus behind Miller's play was to strike out against the "witch hunt" of his day, the Communist hysteria that took hold of the United States soon after the end of World War II and lead to the formation of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) and the interrogation and blacklisting of many artists and show biz people in the 1950s.

As to the play, it is interesting if a bit inaccurate, and is clearly written to get Miller's point across about hysteria and rushing to judgment. But still it is a pretty good read and the most interesting and true thing about it, I think, is the way the authorities went along with the hysteria and stupidity and how they threw common sense out the window in their fear of the devil and witches. Lives were blighted for the lack of a little common sense.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Last Unicorn


By Peter S. Beagle

So there's this unicorn and one day she realizes that it has been yonks since she has seen another unicorn. She decides to investigate and she shortly discovers that all the other unicorns are gone. She then decides that she must find out what happened to them and where they are. So she sets out on her quest.
Well, she doesn't get far before she is captured by an unscrupulous witch who puts the unicorn into her carnival as an exhibit and there the unicorn stays until she talks the witch's inept magician into helping her escape. And escape is vital because the witch has also captured a harpy and the magic holding the harpy captive is weakening and it will soon burst free and destroy anything in its path. Fortunately the unicorn manages to slip away when the harpy gets free and goes after the witch.
The harpy & the magician resume the unicorn's quest and the magician has a quest too. He wants to find his true power and become a real magician instead of a fake, carnival magician.
The unicorn found out that the other unicorns were driven away by the Red Bull and that the Red Bull serves King Haggard, a blighted king who rules a blighted kingdom. So the unicorn, the magician and a thief's moll they acquire along the way set off for Haggard's kingdom to confront him and his fearsome Red Bull. And in the process each will grow and discover things about themselves they never realized and the unicorn will find out what it is like to be vulnerable.

This is a take on your standard fairy tale, with monsters, magic, a handsome prince, an ensorcelled kingdom, a fair maiden (and a not-so-fair maiden), a wizard and a not-so-happy ending. It was a really good read, engrossing and often fun, and not really your standard fairy tale.

New Words

Theorbo: a larger type of lute typical of Renaissance music. "Their seven servants had set up a scarlet canopy beneath a tree, and the royal young couple ate a box lunch to the accompaniment of lutes and theorbos."

Lamia: a monster with the head and breasts of a woman and the lower half of a serpent, which ate children and sucked the blood from men. "'Unicorn, mermaid, lamia, sorceress, Gorgon - no name you give her would surprise me, or frighten me.'"

Afreet: a cunning demon or spirit from the djinn world. "Long years later, when Schmendrick's name had become a greater name than Nikos's and worse than afreets surrendered at the sound of it, he was never able to work the smallest magic without seeing Prince Lír before him, his eyes squinted up because of the brightness and his tongue sticking out."

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Re-birth


By John Wyndham

Hundreds of years or more after a devastating nuclear war, humans are struggling to survive, living on the fringes of land far enough from the blast sites to maintain life.
A quaint religion has sprung up among these people, a religion based on Christianity but twisted. For these people the greatest sin is to be different, to be a mutant. So mutated crops, farm animals, even humans re dealt with harshly. The animals and crops are destroyed by fire and the human mutants are sterilized and cast out to live in the marginal land bordering the badlands where life is a struggle just to survive. For these people living right means having no mutant crops, no mutant animals, and especially no mutant children. For the woman who three times bears a mutant baby is, like her offspring, sterilized and cast out. Any deviation from the standard is looked upon as sin.
Into this straight-laced society are born several children who look perfectly normal. But they are different. They are telepathic. They can't hear normal people but they can hear each other and communicate over long distances.
Even from the time they are little, they know they must keep their ability hidden. But eventually, inevitably, their secret is exposed and some of them are forced to flee. The situation looks hopeless. But among their number is a young girl who is such a strong telepath she is able to summon help from halfway around the world.

This was an interesting story at the beginning as the main character David, who at the start of the story is just a little boy, learns to cope with his gift and keep himself and his friends safe from their enemies and especially from his own implacable and self-righteous parents. The story got to be less interesting once the character of the powerful telepath is introduced and it often degenerated into a lecture about the stupidity of ordinary humans and the inevitability of their replacement by a better breed of humans, namely the telepaths.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Schindler's Ark


By Thomas Keneally

Based on true events, this is the fictionalized account of Oskar Schindler, a German who did not turn his back on the Holocaust but who, through his and others efforts, managed to shepherd some 1100 Jews through those deadly years to safety.
Oskar Schindler would not be anyone's idea of a saint, given as he was to chasing women and boozing. But apparently, under that hedonistic exterior, was a deeply compassionate heart. A heart that was moved to help, in his own way, the Jews of the Cracow ghetto as they faced their unspeakable cruel enemy, racism. Racism that allowed millions of people to profit from the destruction of millions of their fellow humans. Even today, in many parts of Europe, the feeling towards the Jewish people is one is mistrust and hatred. Even today, these people would most likely rejoice to see Jews destroyed, just as their fathers did in the 1940s.
Oskar Schindler went to Cracow to make money. He took over a factory that made metal dishes and supplied the German army with mess kits. Later he added some munitions to his production line, mainly to guarantee the survival of his factory and thus the survival of his Jewish workers.
One day Oskar was out horse riding in the hills around the Cracow Jewish ghetto when he witnessed an act of cruelty and violence, Jews pulled from their homes and shot in the street. This was his awakening to the truth of the Nazi regime. Almost immediately he hit upon a plan to spare as many Jews as possible from the Holocaust. Seeing the writing on the wall and learning about the reality of the death camps like Auschwitz, Schindler had his own camp built for his workers. From the outside, it looked like any concentration camp, with barracks, and fencing and guard towers with Nazi guards armed with guns. But inside the camp, his workers had more food, cleaner and healthier conditions and, since Schindler did not allow the Nazis to enter camp whenever they wanted, his Jews enjoyed freedom from the casual executions that were the order of the day in the other camps.
As the war ran on and the tide turned against Germany, in Cracow, with the Russians drawing ever nearer, it was decided that vital industries must be moved closer to Germany. And so came about the Schindler's list for which the dramatization of this book into a movie was named. For Oskar Schindler submitted a list to the Germans of his workers that he vitally needed for his new factory to be opened in Brinnlitz. The list was a tissue of lies, since it contained not only workers, but their wives and children, which Schindler swore to the authorities were absolutely vital to his factory's continued manufacture of munitions for the war effort. Unfortunately, Schindler was not in charge of transferring his people from Poland to Brinnlitz in what is now the Czech Republic. His Jews had to be turned over to the SS and the Nazis and they spent some time in Auschwitz before finally arriving in their new location in Brinnlitz. Many of the women languished for months is Auschwitz before Oskar was able to convince the authorities to send them to him. By the time they got to Oskar, many were just days away from dying of disease and starvation.
As in Cracow, Oskar set up a miniature concentration camp for his workers as before. The machines to manufacture armaments were also set up, but this time with a slight maladjustment so that they were never able to produce any munitions that met specifications. In this manner, Schindler was able to stall the authorities, provide a safe harbor for thousands of Jews and keep them safe until the Germans were soon forced to surrender and not build another munition for the Germans.
How did Oskar manage to pull it off? Mainly through bribery. Officials were willing to look the other way, to bury their heads in the sand for money, jewels, liquor, foodstuffs. Oskar spent hundred of thousands in dollars bribing people, buying black market food and medications and liquor to be used, not only for the Jews he was striving so mightily to protect, but as bribes to the corrupt officials that made up the German command.
In the end, Oskar saved thousands of Jews who would have surely died otherwise. In gratitude, the Jewish people brought him to Israel decades later where he was given a hero's welcome. Since Oskar spent his fortune saving them and since he was never able to recoup those loses, the survivors lobbied the West German government for a pension for Schindler in recognition of his heroic efforts on their behalf. He was awarded a monthly pension of $200 and given the Papal Knighthood of St. Sylvester by the Archbishop of Limburg.
Even though he was a hero to millions of Jews, to the Germans he was regarded as a traitor. When the German newspapers carried stories of Oskar's wartime efforts to save Jews from the death camps, Oskar's fellow Germans reacted angrily. In Frankfurt, he was pelted with stones. He was reviled and told he should have been burned with the Jews...

This is a worthy book about a hero who refused to go along with the herd and stand meekly by while millions of people were hunted down and murdered simply because they were Jews, simply because they were a little different, simply because they were not of the same religion as the rest. Oskar Schindler was no doubt a magnificent human being, despite his flaws and weaknesses. He was the perfect man to do what needed to be done. And he wasn't the only one. Here and there, throughout the whole area, human beings struggled to protect and save their fellow humans, the Jews, from the unspeakable Nazi "final solution." Read it and learn the truth about man's inhumanity and about man's humanity.

New Words

Quotidian: Daily; occurring or recurring every day; common, ordinary, trivial. "Not to stretch belief so early, the story begins with a quotidian act of kindness, a kiss, a soft voice, a sugared bar."

Bosky: Having abundant bushes, shrubs or trees. "Czechoslovakia was such a bosky, unravished little dumpling of a republic that the German-speakers took their minority stature with some grace, even if the Depression and some minor governmental follies would later put a certain strain on the relationship."

Internecine: Mutually destructive; most often applied to warfare; Characterized by struggle within a group, usually applied to an ethnic or familial relationship. "But it cannot have been too internecine a household."

Orotund: Bombastic: ostentatiously lofty in style. "At Christmas 1939 Oskar found them simply a relief from the orotund official line."

Herbata: Polish word for tea. "Stern and Levartov would, if given the leisure, have sat together for hours over a glass of herbata, letting it grow cold while they talked about the influence of Zoroaster on Judaism, or the other way round, or the concept of the natural world in Taoism."

Toper: Drinker: a person who drinks alcoholic beverages (especially to excess). "'He was,' says Oskar with a customary toper's primness, 'a notorious drunkard.'"