The Shadow King ~ by Maaza Mengiste

I skimmed a lot of this book because, for one thing, parts of it were almost over-the-top violent. I used to close my eyes in movies when the violence got too much, so I can skim in books.  I don’t usually mind the violence if there’s a thematic point although that doesn’t necessarily cover everything – and I can tolerate quite a lot – Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is horrendously violent but it’s theme needs that.

The Shadow King 
by Maaza Mengiste 
2019 / (429 pages)
Read by Robin Miles 18h 9m
Rating: 9/ historical fiction 

The other reason I skimmed some is that the unfamiliar accents on the part of the narrator doing some characters was very strong – difficult to understand.  

That said, I think I got the basics and I have very mixed feelings about the book. First it’s brilliant in many ways. It will be studied in college courses for years.  

A question I saw in the results of an online search asked: Is The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste based on a true story?”  Well,  yes and no.  Mengiste did a lot of research to get what she wrote correct. I read somewhere that the book took years of research.  At the outset of WWII Italy invaded Ethiopia because the power-hungry Mussolini wanted colonies and women warriors were indeed used by the Ethiopians in their struggle to defend themselves against a powerful and ruthless enemy. Haile Selassie, the new Emperor, went into hiding in England for the duration.

Meanwhile, the main characters were invented as well as the bits about a “shadow king” of Haile Selassie not being in the UK but fighting in Ethiopia, although that may have been what was rumored. The book is a good example of historical fiction.  It’s not “nonfiction” in any way and I don’t see it as being “based on a true story.”  It’s fiction of an historical variety. 

This is good!
https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-body-is-a-battlefield-on-maaza-mengistes-the-shadow-king/

Apparently, the author found photos of some women warriors and that started some research and because Mengiste is a novelist, not a historian, she expanded the story beyond the documentation.  She gave some of the women in the photos names and possessions and families.  She gave them backstories and problems. She did this with both men and women. The Shadow King took about 10 years to research and write. 

It’s beautifully written story in two time frames. It opens in Addis Ababa in 1974 with a woman holding a box at a train station.  It then goes back in time to the 1930s when Hirut, a young woman then, is an orphaned girl in the service of relatives who have taken her in.  These characters present problems of their own and I have a feeling the social history might very well be accurate – it’s violent, especially against women.  But women can be powerful, too.  The family is preparing to fight alongside their countrymen as Mussolini’s Fascist Italian forces try to overpower Ethiopia for  colonial purposes. 

Mengiste is a very creative and talented stylist also -there’s a “chorus” which appears for Selassie occasionally and Aida is summoned to work on him as well. It’s like the Iliad in an Ethiopian rendition of tales of war. “The Shadow King is a work borne of rage, a rage made magnificent for its compassion and the story it tells us—that in war there are no winners. A brilliant novel, lyrically lifting history towards myth.”

Lots of good stuff in this review: http://justottawa.com/reviews/books/443-shadow-king-by.html
And also this one:  https://newhumanist.org.uk/articles/5697/maaza-mengistes-the-shadow-king-is-a-modern-day-iliad

So I suppose it is a wee bit less horrendously violent than At Night All Blood Is Black since that gets into war of mythical proportions with some occultist aspects added.

This book could REALLY stand two or more readings but … 
***P.S.  I’m thinking I want to move away from books of rage with women as much a part of the terror as anyone.  I need lighter fare more often as I move through my 8th decade and as this Covid stuff lingers.

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Apples Never Fall ~ by Liane Moriarty

There are so many enticing books out this fall – it would seem that our favorite authors have been writing away all during the pandemic with good stories on their minds – less graphic grossness, sex and violence anyway.  I’ve got books lined up by release date – Yay!  I don’t usually pre-order – why bother when I can get to what I want within a few minutes of when I’m ready to start reading. 

Apples Never Fall
By Liane Moriarty 
Sept 2021 /  (516 pgs print)
Read by Caroline Lee 18h 3m
Rating: 9.5 / 21st Cent Lit – crime  

This may be a beautiful love story.  I’m not big on genre romance but this isn’t that – not by a long shot. This is dysfunctional people mostly loving each other but sometimes hating each other in family situations.  It’s also a crime novel.  

And it’s a long book – 472 pages in print –  starting slow with Moriarty building and developing several characters and situations in two different time frames, one being “Now” and the other 8 months prior, “Last September.”  

In the “Now” sections Mom has disappeared and been missing for 2 weeks.  In the “Last September” parts the events preceding Mom’s disappearance are revealed as well as the family dynamics.  But the first big twist, for me anyway, was at about 2/3 of the way through.  

It’s important though because for those pages the book is actually more a steadily deepening study of this family’s dynamics. At first glance everything looks fine on the outside, but then we get to looking at the insides of the individuals and the tensions people live under.  We realize that these people say everything except what’s important. It’s a very passive aggressive environment with very competitive people  We get to know all the major characters and the slightly or severely dysfunctional ways in which they operate. Moriarty is a new Anne Tyler or Alice Munro at character development.  

The  driving mystery of the book is “What happened to Mom, who done it, and why?”  And that’s what the tension builds around, starting from a generally placid exterior issue and moving towards disaster on two levels.
 
Domestic abuse of various sorts and love of all kinds are the major themes. The abuse never gets graphic, but it does result in a couple or more tragedies. And there are myriad connections.  

Joy and Stan Delaney are retired tennis instructors who have recently sold their tennis school.  Joy is 69, Stan is 70. They live near Sydney, Australia and they have four grown children, Amy, Brooke, and Troy who live nearby andLogan, the most successful, lives further away. They were all very great tennis players in their youth, although not quite the best of the best. That honor went to another, a former student of Stan’s.   

This book starts out with this lovely family of six, two parents who are still mostly in love but there are frays, and their four very talented but somewhat screwed up adult children.  As the tale unfolds we get a closer and deeper picture of this family which hides all their important difficulties. Dad gets right on the line of abusive. 

One evening “Last September” a young woman rings the doorbell at the Delaneys and then pounds on their door until they have to let her in. She has left her boyfriend for abuse and has nowhere to go. Joy and Stan take her in and help her out until Joy disappears – whereabouts unknown.

 Stan and Joy are just very competitive people and they train their kids to be champions. The book is more a study of characters and an exploration of family dynamics than it is a mystery.  But the mystery is important –

Amy is the eldest in her late 30s, works at whatever jobs she can get, is single and shares a flat with 3 others.  She goes to counseling sessions about something.   Simon Barrington, an accountant, is her mostly platonic roommate/friend. 

Logan teaches business correspondence at a college. He actually went to college, graduated and used it for getting ahead.  He has classy tastes.  He’s unmarried but in a long-term relationship with a woman who leaves him after 10 years.

Brooke is the youngest daughter, married to Grant and has recently opened a small health and exercise clinic.  She overworks at everything.  Since she was a child she’s been over-nervous and started getting migraines and dropped out. She couldn’t really enjoy tennis after that.  Her father blames Brooke for quitting competitive tennis.  She and Grant separate and she’s now losing clients. 

 Troy, the youngest, is divorced from Claire and works at something, somewhere, making lots of money.  He lived in Texas for awhile.  He has a very hot temper.  Claire is ready to have a baby and wants to use Troy’s saved embryos.  

There are no grandchildren although there is desire.

Savannah (Pagonis) is an interloper and not given an intimate treatment until near the end so we never get inside her head which adds suspense.  She helps Stan and Joy in many ways.  She ingratiates herself quietly and pleasantly but there is always the question of why. Amy does not like Savannah, at all. The others are wary except Mom who wants to be a mom.
 
The main detectives are Christina and Ethan busily prying into the lives of everyone.  

In the backstory we find out that mom and dad have plenty to disagree about concerning their kids and how well they did with tennis.  And there’s Harry Hadad who comes into the story because he was the “superstar Grand Slam winner”  who got away and became a famous Australian tennis star.  Stan never got over the loss of Harry and his children still feel the betrayal.

From the first pages and 2 weeks after Mom’s disappearance the police are involved. This is about 9 months after Savannah appears on the scene and moves in.  Information turns up which looks very bad on Stan, but there are lots of leads. 

It took me about 6 hours to really get into the book but I was curious from the start.  The mystery only comes into play a wee bit at a time.
And the voice on the Audio is very interesting – 

Moriarity writes nicely with great insight and sly wit and Caroline Lee, the narrator, brings out the best of it. The structure is interesting but not overly complicated. I sometimes got the Delaney children mixed up, but that was minimal. This might go in my top 10 fictions of the year.

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The Vanishing Half ~ by Brit Bennett

This came up on several “best of” lists including former president Obama’s from last year.  It was on my Wish List at Audible for months until I just got sick of seeing it there and removed it.  Then it was available at the library so I snatched it.  Whatever – I’m very glad I read it.  It changed my outlook on a few things.  The book had some problems though – imo.  

The Vanishing Half
by Brit Bennett 
Read by Shayna Small 11h 24m
2020 / (350 pages) 
Rating: 9 / Contemp. Lit.  

The story is about twin Black girls in the late 1960s and on through their lives to the 1990s.  While in their teens these girls leave their tiny town of Mallard first for New Orleans and then they take radically different paths in life. The story goes from the very late 1940s when their dad is killed and winds up at the end of the 1990’s.

Mallard is a very tiny Louisiana town where the residents are all a very light Black just as the original developer had been.  As teenagers the girls leave Mallard and go to New Orleans where they find work and men. Stella leaves with Mr Sanders, her white boss, for a new life while Desiree follows a very dark man to Washington DC.  She finds out that her man is violent and returns to Mallard and her mother. with Jade, her very dark 8-yearn old girl. Meanwhile, Stella marries Blake and has her own child, Kennedy.

Stella starts passing as White during the early years with Blake Sanders. That means she stays away from Mallard and lies to Blake and Kennedy as well as neighbors.

The nonlinear structure makes the novel confusing to follow and I got the multi-generational characters mixed up too. There are 4 main women with each having a separate life which brings up issues of identity and wanting to belong as well as racism, family, mother-daughter relationships, poverty vs wealth.   

My problems were that the 60-year time span with a non-linear structure gets complicated and I sometimes lost track. Also, with 4 lead women and their families I got confused about who each one was and when. It did all straighten out though but the ending dragged a bit- like Bennett didn’t quite want to leg go of these people.

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Shutdown ~ by Adam Tooze

Heck of a good book – yes-siree-bob – if you’re interested in international and macro economics in the era of the novel Coronavirus-19. I read Premonition by Michael Lewis which was about the medical aspects and how the US professionals and officials dealt with that.  And I read Landslide by Michael Wolff which was about Trump and how he handled it (along with other matters).  But this book is about the worldwide economics of it.  Fwiw, Tooze is from the UK but the book was written as much of more for Americans as the English. 

Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy 
by Adam Tooze
2021 / 354 pages
Read by Simon Vance 12h 37m
Rating: 9 / current events-economics 
(Both read and listened) 

“This is the real first world war … the other world wars were localized in (some) continents with very little participation from other continents  … but this affects everyone. It is not localized. It is not a war from which you can escape.” Lenin Moreno – president of Ecuador. (p. 8) 

I read Tooze’s book Crashed back in February of 2019 and enjoyed it so much I wanted to read it a second time but … yeah – time.   Here’s my review of it- a 9.75 rating:  
https://mybecky.blog/2019/02/27/crashed-by-adam-tooze/

In Shutdown I was hooked in with the first few pages. The Introduction is long and fascinating and read by Tooze who is a very good narrator.  The book is long and fascinating as it goes over any and almost all aspects of what we (the world)  went through as well as some background (2008).  And there are the perennial economics issues – big government and big debt vs trying to keep it all to a minimum.  

In Chapter 1 Tooze introduces the reader to some of the problems associated with the economics of a pandemic like Covid.  What is a life/death worth? How much risk is reasonable? Are we as community minded as the vets of WWI?  And now the source and spread of the infectious diseases (like the viruses, HIV-AIDS, SAARS, the Coronavirus-19, Ebola, Swine Flu, H1N1, etc) is global and fast.  So we have to be prepared and to fight big because these are costly by nature and they involve “market failure.” By that time the social order and political legitimacy are at stake. This kind of biomedical catastrophe had been seen as a probable future problem for a long time before Covid hit – but still, we weren’t prepared – nobody was.  And the US and China were not much better.  We were preoccupied with climate.  

Of course, I got bored and a bit lost when the narrative turned to junk bonds, derivatives, treasuries and repurchasing, but that’s only a chapter or two.  And Tooze covers what Wall Street and the European Union were doing in trying to get their act together.  Strong central banks were vital.  And what caught my attention were the varied responses of the EU, South American countries, China and the wee bits about Africa – good and bad. 

For the first couple of months there was no need for a lot of “lockdowns” and travel bans. People were doing that anyway of their own accord – this is what is meant by “shutdown.”  Shutdown is voluntary.  The results show that in the economics reports: travel was down something like 90% in places and movies were making no money at all and this was before any mandates or laws about Covid behavior.

Then the governments got involved and everyone did they their own thing with China and South Korea being quickly successful at containing the virus while there was horrendous spread in Bolsonaro’s Brazil.  

Trump’s behavior and ideas come into the picture at times and Tooze is no fan but he does give rather grudging credit where it’s due- Trump changed his mind on a few things before the crisis got too much.   And Xi Jinping is not exempt from criticism, but I think Tooze supports Xi’s China more than the old -style capitalism of the right wing US which is made up of a strange coalition of Koch money and tattoo parlor/motorcycle repair businesses.   

The main thrust of the book is in the economics and how all the countries and agencies worked together (or not) to deal with the crisis.

Overall I enjoyed the book – it’s a good overview of what’s transpired over the last 18 months and how  the economy has been affected and how the financial sectors have reacted.  

Simon Vance does an excellent job of narrating.  

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The Shadow District ~ by Arnaldur Indridason,

I’ve read several of Indridason’s books and discovered this available at the library.  So I got it. Just before I remembered that Matrix by Lauren Groff was released today. Oh dear.  So now I’ve got them both.  How to read two books at the same time, I don’t know.  The Indridason book is a fast paced Nordic thriller and I’m very interested in Matrix.  

The Shadow District: A Thriller
By Arnaldur Indridason, 2017
Read by George Guidall 8h 52m
Rating B / Nordic crime  
(The Flovent and Thorson Thrillers Book 1 of 2)

An old man is found dead in his apartment. His neighbor checks, finds the body and calls the police.  It looks like he’s had a heart attack in his sleep, but the coroner said he was smothered with his pillow. This is Reykjavík, Iceland present day.  The investigator is Konrad, a retired detective who has been  restless and kind of “helps out” with old cases.  A woman named Marta who works these cases is Konrad’s old partner. She tells him about this case and it turns out he is very familiar with it, but he keeps mum and starts looking into it.   

Time change to WWII era when the body of a young woman is found behind a theater in Reykjavik.. The finders are a US soldier and his date. The soldier makes them hurry away but they were seen by an older woman passing by. 
 
There is a  connection in that the old dead man had news clippings of the WWII murder which was 70 years prior. Konrad is intrigued and the reader tries to put the stories together.  

The book starts out great but as the threads get tangled so do the time frames with all the different characters. More information is also added and my interest got annoyed.  I kept reading and it did clear up but it took awhile.  Fwiw, I don’t like what I consider to be a “deus ex machina” in the resolution of the plot. 

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The Last Mona Lisa ~ by Jonathan Santlofer

I used to really enjoy mysteries with art settings and themes and I read quite a number back then, maybe 10 years ago?  These days I’ll pick up an art-oriented novel if it catches my eye and has gotten a few good reviews like this one did: 

The Last Mona Lisa
by Jonathan Santlofer
2021 (404 pages)Read by Edoardo Ballerini 9h 15m
Rating: C / crime

It started out as a pretty fun book but as it progressed I realized there were some pet-peeves here. First, novels based on real-life people and events can annoy me by stretching my suspension of disbelief a bit too far.  I like historical fiction if the setting and events are emphasized as history – not if the characters named and based on actual historical people. 

Still, this book is mostly pretty fun even with the historical incident being the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. So far so good. It’s almost everything after that which bothers me. Santlofer invents a lot more than is verifiable about the thief.  So the story is simply “based on” this incident with this name doing the deed.  It starts with an artist and professor of art history finding out that his grandfather was the Mona Lisa thief and then chasing after evidence of forgery and finding out he’s not alone in that search and that the art world can be a very dangerous place.  

Here’s the real story if you’re interested:

https://www.npr.org/2011/07/30/138800110/the-theft-that-made-the-mona-lisa-a-masterpiece

And more:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincenzo_Peruggia
 
I don’t like when local type stories get enlarged to world-wide espionage. (This mostly happens with series where the author has run out of plausible local stories.)

And I don’t like when too many chapters end in cliff-hangers.  
I don’t like too many coincidences used as plot twists.  
And then – just to add something over-the-top, the protagonist is an alcoholic in AA.  

So the book gets a C and any lower I wouldn’t have even bothered to finish.  

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The Whistler ~ by John Grisham

The second book in this series which is coming out in October. It was started in 2016 with this book, The Whistler. So I figured I’d better get going on this one which is the first book of his new series, Lucy Stoltz.  Grisham has written better but he’s also written worse.  I’m satisfied but not pleased.   is coming out in October

The Whistler
By John Grisham
2016
Read by Cassandra Campbell 13h 10m
Rating: B+ / legal thriller  
(1st in Lucy Stoltz series) 

But Grisham is back to his beginnings doing legal thrillers although there’s not as much courtroom drama as there used to be. (For my money Grisham’s best books were first published in the 1990s.) 

Lacy Stoltz, who is introduced in this novel, and her law partner, Hugo Hatch, are approached by “someone” who has information that a local judge is very much on the make and that a lot of people are in on it.  This is the “whistler” because they’re doing the whistle blowing on more than the judge.  It has to do with a reservation casino, a bunch of cousins, an organized crime syndicate. The whole thing also involves an old murder for which the wrong person was convicted and is now sitting in jail. There’s a lot of money involved because casinos are excellent places to launder money as well as skim it.    

I enjoyed this book. The plot is twisty and involved with the tension very skillfully developed. Grisham’s style is basically very clear, simple and to the point without getting dumb about it.  It works well with his books because it doesn’t interfere with many characters and a complex plot to keep track of.  There are three major female characters, Lacy, Johellen and Claudia, and they are drawn more clearly than the men.  Here’s a helpful list of the characters: : 
https://www.bookcompanion.com/the_whistler_character_list2.html

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The Trail to Buddha’s Mirror ~ by Don Winslow

Don Winslow has been writing books since 1991 and I’ve been reading them since maybe 2000. He writes a lot and I’ve read a dozen or so but I’ve missed several – this was one I’d missed. He’s also won a lot of awards. During this time he’s also gone through different phases and different series. . 

The Trail to Buddha’s Mirror
By Don Winslow
2011
Read by Joe Barrett 12h 2m
Rating:  B+  / crime
(#2 in Neal Carey series) 

This book is from back in 1992, but it was one I’d missed and on sale with my membership so I grabbed it then and kept it for while before I actually pushed the play button.  

Winslow is best known for his more recent Cartel Trilogy which is seriously violent and these are also very violent too,  but he was getting his feet wet and there is a good stretch of lightness and humor in them.  This is not so true of The Cartel and onward.  And there were the surfing books of his middle years -those were fun but they got violent at times.  

In this book the series protagonist, Neal Carey, has been contacted by a bank he owes a lot of money to. That’s the scenario which works as the bridge between the books, the overarching story line for the series.  They send him to find a scientist who has disappeared with an important and very valuable formula.  Carey ends up in Chinatown and then in China as he follows the clues to a secluded lake. 

The relevant history of China was interesting and the rest of the book was very good. I’ll likely read more Winslow and I’m looking forward to City on Fire which is coming out in a couple weeks. 

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The Splendid and the Vile ~ Erik Larson

I’ve wanted to read this since it came out in 2020 but I’ve put it off because at the same time I was just not interested in Winston Churchill and the blitz.  At some point recently I saw it available in the library app and I got it and am giving it a try.   I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Larson and that’s been most of what he’s published.  That said, I wasn’t so hot on Churchill or WWII military history before I read this and I’m still not.  That said, the book is pretty good.   Oh well.  

The Splendid and the Vile:
A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

by Erik Larson
2020 – 608 pages
read by John Lee 17h 49m
rating: 9 (re-reading) / WWII history

As is apparent from the title, the book tells the tale of Winston Churchill and his courageous leadership between that fateful day in  May of 1940, the day Churchill became Prime Minister and Hitler marched into Belgium, and a year later in May 1941,  when Franklin D. Roosevelt and the US were finally convinced to step in as allies.  That was a dreadful year for the UK because after getting Holland and Belgium, Hitler started in on English cities and this was prior to the US coming in. 

Yes, Churchill’s attitude was somewhat “defiant” although he’s usually been called courageous. I suppose in that situation either word will do.  He and England were certainly in the wrong place at the right time – or vice versa. What else could he do but continue to tell the country to turn out the lights, hunker down, actively return fire, and try to get help. And he managed to do all that so it’s absolutely to his credit no matter if he did a few underhanded things to get the help. The US has never regretted helping England in WWII.  And like a hurricane, Churchill seemed to gather strength, energy and determination which he confidently articulated and conveyed to the British people who soldiered on, cold, homeless and hungry. (Yeah) 

The book is also about Churchill’s own family struggles during this time and they had plenty of them.  His wife Clementine was as supportive as she could be working in housing and other volunteer efforts.  Randolph, Churchill’s eldest son,  drank and tried to keep his wife Pamela satisfied, but she found a lover.  Mary, the youngest daughter, wanted to get out and do what young people were doing. Meanwhile Winston moved the all between the Prime Minister’s residences and their own while consulting with his advisors and doing whatever was necessary while waiting for the long promised invasion.  

A lot of it seemed pretty boring, to me.  I knew it wasn’t and it picked up a lot from time to time and then at the end. The problem was me and my lack of interest at that moment.  Of course the droning voice of John Lee just didn’t help (but I usually enjoy Lee’s narrations).   

One thing is that Erik Larson had access to recently released material and he’s an excellent researcher and writer so parts of the book were new and fascinating. But I missed the footnotes. By the time I got to the end I knew I would read it again and I knew I would do it with the Kindle version in hand. So I plugged along and finished a first reading.

During that time I fell asleep listening to the tape for about 3 hours.  I was tempted to just skip it but no … I had been starting to get interested at about the Book 5 mark – midway? – .  I picked it up again.  

This might not have been a such great book to read in the early days of the pandemic – it showed a prime minister with courage and determination who used the resources at hand and developed more as well as seeking help. If we’d had something like that going for us n 2020 we might not be facing what we are today. And England in 1940-’41 was a nation under extreme pressure, maybe more than we were in 2020.  Otherwise, the times were really not much alike as far as I can see.  Differences and similarities, I suppose – a good question for a college history exam – heh. For all his foibles and the dirt which has been dug up more recently, Churchill, whatever his shortcomings, seems to have been the right guy at the right time to get the job done.

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Orientalism ~ by Edward Said

I’d wanted to read this for so long – since college days it feels like. but it was published a few years after I graduated so I couldn’t have even heard about it there.  It must have been mentioned or reviewed in the magazines and newspapers I read. Whatever.  Because then, a few months ago, there it was at Audible and apparently had been there for some time.  And then it was on sale, so I just had to get it even if it might take some time (unless it’s very interesting) to read.   The book caused some change, but the field may have been on the cusp of a changing world.  The 1994 release does include some mention in the closing remarks that it’s dated now – and that was almost 30 years ago.  

Orientalism
By Edward Said
1978 / (1994 update of last pages)
Read Peter Ganim 19h 2m (368 p.) 
Rating: 9 because it’s a classic / history-historiography

It wasn’t a quick read and it wasn’t even very interesting and I think it’s even out of date now but I read it and I’ll likely read it again because I’ve got the gist, it’s an important book for many reasons and I’m sure I missed quite a lot.  Yes, it’s definitely dated, academia has changed a lot, but it does show what related ideas used to be and how they got that way – thanks to Western academics of Orientalism. 

Before the publishing of the book in 1978, the Orient was treated with a kind of special “mystical contempt” by Western academics. The history was interesting but beyond that the “orient” was seen as being backwards. The people there were Muhammadans, worshipping Muhammad and condemned to hell.  And on top of that they had access to a LOT of oil.  So they were all lumped together unless some academic was specializing in the history of a specific group.  It was colonialism at it’s height.  The changes of the 21st century are not covered at all and there have been many.  

Before this book was released the “Middle East” was treated as the source of oil and “Mohammedanism.”  But Said was a brilliant Palestinian exceptionally well-educated at Princeton and Harvard.  His father was American, his mother a Lebanese educator and later an author. His ideas of his homeland and its environs was different from those of his academic peers, he was angry when he realized the pervasiveness of those ideas and wrote Orientalism.   

In the last decades of the 20th and first of the 21st centuries things have changed.  China’s economic growth, the political troubles in the Middle East, the 9/11 attack in New York City and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan  all contributed to a big change in the way Western academics look at Asia as a whole.  The academics of the West now have to take a far more serious, immediate and respectful notice.  But “they” are still the “other,”  “outsiders,” and historically Islam is an imposter, a fake religion.  Europe and Christianity are the real thing, you know – that was the attitude until recently – and maybe even now.  

When the book was written, these events had not even happened yet and Said could have known nothing about them. Still, the history is great and it explains a lot about colonialism and other matters. From Dante to the War in Vietnam Said lays out the past and then he brings it up to the Western paranoia of his own times (1976 or so) .  For Europe, “the orient” was a place where Western ideas dominated alongside Islam to which the West responded with Islamophobia.  Academics were curious about the “snake charmers,” etc. Shell Oil wanted product, and they looked down on the heretical Islam although to them it was backwards and fraudulent. 

Yes, the book has so much specific info that I really kind of want to read it again.  

 

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The Wreck ~ by Landon Beach

Bought on sale –  mostly stupid.  Too much fluff and too much romance. Eventually there turns out to be a mystery and then some murders and then a thriller type ending. The reason I got it was probably because of Scott Brick.

The Wreck
by Landon Beach 
2020 / 
Read by Scott Brick 7h 9m
Rating – C / crime 

Nate Martin, a high school science teacher by trade, is on vacation with his wife at Lake Ontario where he at least partly grew up.  While walking on the beach he finds an unusual coin. A bit of research shows it to be a French coin from the 17th century.  

Meanwhile, some super-rich have found the area and are busily gentrifying it.  One of the new residents gets word about the coin find and wants to see if he can get in on anything worth any money.  He sends his lawyer, who has problems of his own, to check. 

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All Quiet on the Western Front ~ by Erich Maria Remarque

In all my years of reading I somehow never got around to reading this.  So when I noticed I got it and put it on my Wish List.  Okay, fine.  There it sat for a few years, probably until it went on sale.  Then it sat in my To Be Read folder which I had to create after several sales left me with a small bundle of books I had yet to read. And it sat there for a few years.  

All Quiet on the Western Front
By Erich Maria Remarque
Translated by Arthur Wesley Wheen 
1929 / 304 pages
Read by Frank Muller
Rating: 8 / classic war book  

Now,  having made a commitment of sort (notice the waffling?) I started in.
 
Yes, it’s a slow, beautifully written (or at least nicely worded) meditation on the existential human tragedy of war and on what it took out of a young man of the early-20th century.

It was authored by Erich Maria Remarque about 10 years after the Great War in which he fought and it went on to quickly became a top seller causing a small stir. Pacifists loved it, but in Nazi Germany the book was banned and burned  I don’t know why I even got it except I wanted to be able to say I’d read it  I’m usually averse to war books (and movies) although I got over the worst of my aversion when people told me how wonderful several war books (or films) were and so I tried them. It’s probably been years since I read any kind of war book and times have changed. 

Here we have a young German, Paul Bäumer, at about age 18 who just joined the military because Germany has gone to war.  I’ve read plenty about European and the US before, during and after WWI, and it’s been fiction and nonfiction.  I was a history major and kept up as a kind of history buff. I think it’s just interesting to me. 

Although the narrative of All Quiet on the Western Front  gets pretty graphic: “A blow from a spade cleaves through his face” books which focus on violence get much worse today. Also, much of the language is way out of date so that helps to distance the prose and the story from this reader.  He’s tying for beautiful writing about horrible things.  Writers today just invent as horrific a story as they can and see if they can write about that. I don’t like that either.  Life is too often grim enough without adding to it.

As I said, I think times have changed.  This was the first book of what became known as the war genre. There have been lots of similar books since. Of those few I’ve read, this may be closest to a book called “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien.  The spirit seems to be that of the few anti-war movies I viewed. The only war book I’ve read which is not anti-war is The Matterhorn but that was taken up by anti-war activists.  

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/most-loved-and-hated-novel-about-world-war-I-180955540/

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