Friday, July 20, 2012

"I Am An Executioner", by Rajesh Parameswaran ****

  • Short Stories
  • Audiobook
  • Indian author
  • Originally published 2012
  • Debut
  • Story #1:  Tiger as narrator, accidentally kills a keeper, eventually develops "instinctive" killing
  • Story #2:  Simple man decides to masquerade as a physician, with disastrous results
  • Story#3:  Simple minded, yet wise executioner tries to understand his wife
  • Story#4:  Narrator, created based on an old photo of a relative of the author's, tries to understand a man considered crazy, also, he speaks to the author, even yells at him regarding the conclusion to the story
  • Story #5:  Boy who speaks "Engliphant"
  • Story #6:  Woman kills one pays attention...metaphor for alienation she feels since moving from India to the USA
  • Review:   This is a tough review to write.  This collection of short stories is well worth reading, yet inconsistent in quality.  There are fabulous characters, including a tiger as narrator, a man masquerading as a physician, an elephant and a boy who speaks "Engliphant", an alienated immigrant, and more.  The plots are distinct yet connected by the thread of what it means to be an animal....human or otherwise.  Warning...not an uplifting, upbeat collection; rather an intense and thought-provoking collection.   This is a debut collection and I am definitely interested to see where this writer goes with his talents from here!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel **

  • Audiobook
  • Tried reading this one other time, but was in the wrong frame of mind.....want to try again
  • English author
  • Originally published 2009
  • Man Booker Prize winner
  • Review:   Bored stiff.....did not finish...and I had the same reaction both times I tried reading it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"The Botany of Desire" by Michael Pollan ***

  • Audiobook
  • Non-Fiction
  • US author
  • Originally published 2001
  • Review:  What an interesting perspective....Take the desire for control, intoxication, beauty, and sweetness.......look at the apple, the tulip, cannabis, and the potato......listen to Michael Pollan's interesting theory that plants manipulate us into helping them survive.   Yep....very interesting!

Friday, July 6, 2012

"Matters of Honor" by Louis Begley ****

  • #4 Summer Sub Club read with Beth
  • Polish author, born in a part of Poland which is now part of the Ukraine
  • Originally published 2007
  • Author Info: 
    Begley was born Ludwik Begleiter in Stryi at the time part of Poland and now in Ukraine, as the only child of a physician. Using forged identity papers that enabled them to pretend to be Polish Catholics, his mother and he survived the almost wholly successful German attempt to kill all Polish Jews.
    He lived with his mother at first in Lwów, and then in Warsaw until the end of the August 1944 Warsaw uprising. By the time World War II ended, they were in Kraków, where they were reunited with Begley’s father.
    During the school year 1945/46, Begley attended the Jan Sobieski gimnazjum in Kraków. It was his first experience of formal instruction since kindergarten during Soviet occupation of Stryj, which followed German invasion of Eastern Poland in 1939.
    The family left Poland in the fall of 1946 for Paris and, in late February 1947, left Paris for New York, arriving March 3, 1947. After graduating from Erasmus Hall High School, Begley studied English Literature at Harvard College (AB '54, summa cum laude). Service in the United States Army followed, the last eighteen months of it in Göppingen, Germany, with the 9th Division.

    Career as a lawyer

    In 1956 Begley entered Harvard Law School. Upon his graduation in 1959 (LL.B. magna cum laude), he joined the New York firm now known as Debevoise & Plimpton as an associate. He became a partner January 1, 1968, while serving at the newly established Paris office. Upon his return to New York, Begley headed for many years the firm’s international practice. He retired from the firm on January 1, 2004.


    In 1956, Begley married Sally Higginson. They were divorced in May, 1970. In March 1974, Begley married his present wife, Anka Muhlstein, born in Paris. A historian and biographer, Anka has been honored twice by the French Academy’s prize for history, for her biographies. These biographies include the eighteenth century explorer, Cavelier de La Salle, and her ancestor James de Rothschild, the founder of the French Rothschild bank. Muhlstein has received the Goncourt prize for biography for her work on the French writer Custine, which is available in English as A Taste for Freedom: The Life of Astolphe de Custine. Anka’s other works are Par les yeux de Marcel Proust, Denoël, 1971, La Femme Soleil, Denoël, 1976, Victoria, Gallimard, 1978, Manhattan, Grasset, 1986, Reines éphémères, Mères perpétuelles, Albin Michel, 2001, Les Périls du Mariage, Albin Michel, 2004, and Napoléon à Moscou, Odile Jacob, 2007. Her Garcon, un cent d’huîtres, a study of the role of gastronomy in the novels of Balzac, was published by E
  • Epigraph:  "Les morts, les pauvres morts ont de grandes douleurs..... ", Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal
  • "Jewism", the term the boys used for describing Henry's version of being Jewish, of assimilation
  • Quotes:
    • p.31..."All the same, so long as there are people who care whether I am a Jew pretending to be a Gentile, I have to remain a Jew, even though inside I feel no more Jewish than a smoked ham.  If the question is asked, I'm obliged to say that I'm a Jew--unless the consequence is ending up in a concentration camp or dead.  I consider it a debt of honor, an odd one for someone like me, who doesn't believe he owes anything to anybody.  Otherwise, I've no intention of making a show of being Jewish"..........key to title?
    • p.37..."Disrespect does away with many a barrier to conquest" a quote!!!
    • p.51..."But practically speaking, non of this is about what we were before the war, or what happened during the war.  It's about what we are now.  We have become a different species.".....perhaps true after any war
    • p.53..."I now realize that all three of us--Henry, Archie, and I--used the word "Jew" with restraint, holding it gingerly with two fingers far away from the body, as though it gave off a bad smell.  It was an embarrassing word to utter in polite company, especially if a Jew was present--unless like old Gummy, you were telling jokes about Weisberg, Goldberg, and the like.  In that respect it was not unlike "homosexual" or some of the less antiseptic variants in use at Harvard:  queer, fairy, queen, pervert, faggot, fruit, and pederast."
    • p.54..."If you want to know what it's really like to be a Jew, let Shylock tell you."
    • p.67..."...clearly setting yourself against the opinions of other was easier if you were rich and occupied an impregnable social position."
    • p.209..."We're not self-hating anti-Semitic Jews.  We're only snobs."...Margot
    • p.289..."I've read somewhere that survival of the species--at least of the higher orders--reposes on a single anomaly:  until senescence, neither the male nor the female tires of orgasms.......(a friend just told ma about a woman, aged 88, who read ":Fifty Shades of Gray" and told someone that she didn't realize her body could still "react like that".
    • p.290..."I had come to the land of the free so I wanted to be free, and that meant ridding myself of the chains, the weight that held me back:  Krakow and the morass of Jewish history and Jewish suffering before, during, and after the war.  All of it.  All the Jewism,"...Henry
  • Interesting notion of the difference between pragmatic and symbolic truth.....p.207
  • Circle of hell devoted to children who were not dutiful to their parents....all would be there....LOL...p.275
  • Review:   This is a sleeper of a novel.  On the surface it is simply a tale of four post-WWII Harvard freshmen and their coming of age with typical life struggles in the arenas of career, family, and relationships.  However, Begley's writing subtly draws the reader into a much bigger theme which is self-invention and re-invention.  We meet Sam, our narrator whose parents were not up to snuff by many standards.  We meet Archie, who is a burgeoning alcoholic who refuses to transform.  We meet Margot who has it all and yet has nothing.  We meet our very dear Henry, a Polish, Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, who is gifted in the area of re-invention.  So, the novel resonates for anyone who has wanted to re-invent themselves, leaving behind those aspects of their identity which are distasteful, socially unacceptable, frightening, and/or which stand in the way of what we seek in life.  There were a few sections which seemed to drag, perhaps not feeling quite necessary to the forward motion of the story, and the use of language was subtly powerful, but not exquisite enough for a 5 star rating.  Very good novel!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"Say You're One of Them" by Uwem Akpan *****

  • Audiobook
  • Short Stories
  • Nigerian author
  • Story #1:  poor family living in a shanty scrounges for something to make Christmas festive, and also about the sacrifices made for one of the children to go to school....even a sister prostituting herself...finally the boy chooses not to go to school
  • Story #2:  Children whose parents are dying of HIV/Aids live with their uncle, who proceeds to attempt to sell them into slavery, although finally, out of guilt, he stops his plan
  • Story#3:  A Muslim boy tries to travel across country in a bus full of Christians and during the journey he learns that all lives are sacred, that different does not necessarily mean bad
  • Story #4:  A family tries to protect itself from the violence of civil war
  • Review:  This is an intense collection of stories about what it is like to live in Africa in the countries torn by religious conflict, political conflict, and violence.   Each story is hopeful and despairing at the same time.  Mr. Akpen's writing is very matter-of-fact regardless of the intensity of actions and situations in the stories, which somehow makes it all very readable.  Themes addressed include:  Muslim v. Christian conflict, family loyalty, desperation of poverty, HIV/Aids,  survival instinct, conflict between tribal rule, dictatorships, and democracy, and the desire for peace. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

"The Night Strangers" by Chris Bohjalian ***

  • Audiobook
  • US author
  • Originally published in 2011
  • Review:  This was a pretty good story if you enjoy the horror genre.  There is an unexpected ending, which helped a lot, even if it was disturbing.