Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep NorthThe Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5*. This was a beautifully written book about Love and War and Life and Death. It did seem as though it were two books. The first, a love story between Dorrigo Evans, an Australian soldier, and his uncles wife, and the other about his time as a POW under the Japanese building the Burma railroad. In the camp, Dorrigo is a surgeon, and the action shifts from him to Darky, a fellow prisoner, and the guards and Japanese officers at the camp. Flanagan often focuses on the opposition that lies within the same moment...how the jungle can be both beautiful and hell, how someone can be terrified and brave in the same moment. So maybe the two stories are meant to show the best and worst in life, but it was difficult for me to tie the two stories together. Still, both stories are expertly told, with poetic grace and at times horrific realism. I felt the rain and mud slosh around me as I read. Another interesting theme was how what we choose to remember and tell ourselves about our past affects our future.

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Why at the beginning of things is there always light?

 A happy man has no past, while an unhappy man has nothing else.

It is not that you know nothing about war, young man, Dorrigo Evans had said. It is that you have learnt one thing. And war is many things.

 As if rather than him leading them by example they were leading him through adulation

 He took a book from a shelf, and as he brought it up to his chest it passed from shadow into one of the sun shafts. He held the book there, looking at that book, that light, that dust. It was as though there were two worlds. This world, and a hidden world that it took the momentary shafts of late-afternoon light to reveal as the real world—of flying particles wildly spinning, shimmering, randomly bouncing into each other and heading off into entirely new directions. Standing there in that late-afternoon light, it was impossible to believe any step would not be for the better. He never thought to where or what, he never thought why, he never wondered what might happen if, instead of progressing, he collided like one of the dust motes in the sunlight.

 As though what she really sought from him was this obliteration, an oblivion, and their passion could only lead to her erasure from the world. For if the living let go of the dead, their own life ceases to matter.

It’s only our faith in illusions that makes life possible, Squizzy, he had explained, in as close to an explanation of himself as he ever offered. It’s believing in reality that does us in every time.

 Perhaps that was what hell was, Dorrigo concluded, an eternal repetition of the same failure.

Deep Down Dark

Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them FreeDeep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by H├ęctor Tobar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Inspirational, interesting, entertaining, thought-provoking. An excellent retelling of the 33 miners stuck in a Chilean mine. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

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There are many superstitions about women and mines that are expressions of the male-dominated culture’s ambivalence about both women and underground labor. One legend has it that the mountain itself is a woman, and in a sense “you’re violating her every time you step inside her,” which explains why the mountain often tries to kill the men who’ve carved passageways from her stone body.

The quasi-scientific explanation is that the mountain’s deposits of magnetite are attracting and repelling grains of sand that vibrate in the wind.

Are you going to tell me that if we threw you down here for weeks and left you all alone, completely alone, and then we came to rescue you, we’d find you as fine and dandy as you are now? Did you pull that off all by yourself? No, compadre. You made it this far because behind you there were thirty-two others.”

 taken thirty-three days of drilling to reach the thirty-three men.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Ten Women

Ten WomenTen Women by Marcela Serrano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5 *. As a rule, I don’t enjoy books that are composed of characters, each chapter a different character with a different story that barely intersects with the other characters but a hotel, or a class, or something connects them all together...the “main” character being the owner of said hotel, class, etc. I always feel as though I’m invited to a novel and get inter-connected short stories instead. Not that I’m opposed to that, I just like to get what I’m sold. Ok that rant aside, that format actually works here. 10 women in therapy with Natasha come and share their stories with each other. Each story is unique to the character, yet universal observations and feelings are shared. I felt I learned a lot about the Chilean culture and history, yet again the situations were also relateable. More than any other book I felt like it spoke what it was like to be female, our strength, our compassion, our vulnerability, and our sacrifice. The beginning and the end made it feel more of a scmaltzy chick lit (the therapist previewing and summing up things) but the stories themselves were powerful. The translation was ok although awkward at times and I wished I knew enough Spanish to read it in its written language.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Circle

The CircleThe Circle by Dave Eggers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is equal parts genius and frustration.

Genius- the services described in here that seem like a good ideas, like health plotting, tiny cameras, but Eggers adds just enough extra to make it uncomfortable (being tricked into swallowing a tracker, putting cameras where no one would know, etc.)
— he captures the social pressures to be on social media (“it’s not mandatory, but why wouldn’t you want to share”.)
—helps us think about the fine line between transparency and no privacy...is full disclosure what
we want/ need?
—does a good job of how showing how addicting online affirmations (and how debilitating online jeers) can be

Frustration— Eggers is arguably a genius (staggeringly so), but his novel was all over the place.
Bits and pieces of Mae’s life are incorporated only to fall off. Like kayaking. Did she really never go kayaking again? Her family falls off the map when they turn off the cameras...did she really not try to find them?
Also Mae goes from being humiliated by having a potential boyfriend over-sharing and then becoming a walking camera with full transparency...that leap doesn’t feel authentic to the reader. Neither do several of her other choices once she goes transparent...(finding Mercer, going back to Francis, etc.). There just isn’t enough to help the reader understand how Mae goes from casual user to full circle groupie.
The love interests make no sense and detract from the plot. Even the reveal at the end falls flat. The fact that Mae is so giddy about them at first seems juvenile and doesn’t help us like her (if we’re supposed to.)

Bottom line: read this book if you want a heads up into how a company could potentially supplant government. But don’t expect a well-thought out plot or characters.

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Twenty thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (Extraordinary Voyages, #6)Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jules Verne was a good storyteller. His characters are stock, and his scientific facts questionable and sometimes distracting but you can’t help but get swep up in the great wonders and experiences of the Nautalus. I wish Captain Nemo’s motivations were revealed, and the last adventure seemed like a disappointing cop out. But it still made me want to take a plunge into the ocean, or at least go visit the local aquarium.

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All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautiful book about a blind girl, an engineering prodigy, and an agoraphobic veteran. They are from different backgrounds, and even different sides of the war, but their lives intersect so that they all become saviors of each other, each gives hope to the other in impossible situations. It’s a WWII novel, so you can’t entirely escape the tropes that accompany such stories...needless killing and brutality, hardships and secret spy circles. But under Doerr’s artful pen, these incidents seems less cliche than they otherwise might have been and move the story forward. Overall, one of the best books I’ve read recently.

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The Light of the World

The Light of the WorldThe Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t as a rule like to critique memoirs, especially ones about people working out emotional pain, as Alexander does here. Her husband has suddenly died and this memoir is about the love they shared, and how she processes his death and moves on. It is beautifully written, and the chapters slide temporally around as she remembers their life and deals with her grief. There is deep admiration, clearly love, profound sadness, doubt, inertia, courage, and hope. It is very touching. But there is no anger, little regret, and absolutely nothing other than love and admiration for her husband. Maybe it would be tactless to talk ill of the dead. Or maybe in her grief all that irritated her once was washed away. But without his flaws, it was hard to see him as a real person. And did she never at one point get mad at him for running when he didn’t feel well? I know I would have. I would have said “why did you have to be so damn perfect and go running every day? Why couldn’t you have just given up and watched tv like a normal person if you didn’t feel well?” But maybe she is better than I. Anyway, it is a beautiful book about amazing people. But without any ugliness it felt less relateable.

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