The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

April 16th, 2019 — 9:54pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir, T - Recommended for Teenagers

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Any title that exclaims “absolutely true” raises the possibility that it may not be a 100% true and that the author may have taken some poetic license. However, this 2007 novel is clearly purported to be based on the childhood and young adult experiences of the author, Sherman Alexie who is an indigenous American who grew up on the reservation (or “rez” as the main character might say) of the Spokane Indian tribe. The story depicts his early family, school life, interaction with his teachers and friends, especially one key character, his best friend, Rowdy.

Poverty, alcoholism and despair on the “rez” are clearly shown. Then there is the pivotal event in our hero’s life which is his decision to transfer to a school in a white community 22 miles away from where he lives and his need at times to hitch a ride back and forth to school if his often-drunk dad cannot drive him.

We are shown how the main character interacts with the teachers, and other students at his new school, some of whom beat and bully him. We are also shown his accomplishments in varsity sports at high school in a very well-told fast-moving book.

The book is meant for young adults although apparently there has been some resistance in some places because of the realistic depiction of alcoholism, bullying, violence, profanity, sexuality, racism and other realistic situations. This did not prevent the book and the author from receiving numerous prestigious awards for this book, including the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It not only depicted issues specifically to this character and his life, but examined the universal themes of lasting friendship, aspirations, and even how the awareness of death and experiencing loss of a loved one impacts us all.

This  is a relatively short book and there is an added-on section, which contains the author’s perspective from his adult point of view many years after he wrote the original manuscript. There is also an unusual component of the book which is involved with cartoons. The main character in the book was shown to express his feelings and view of contemporary life by drawing various cartoons. In preparation for this book, the author asked graphic and cartoon artist, Ellen Forney to create cartoons throughout the book. We are not sure why he did not use his childhood drawings. Perhaps, this was a fictional component of the story. It was also difficult to clearly view the cartoons on the iPad on which I read the book. However, this did not detract from a thoroughly enjoyable literary experience which I would recommend to all readers.

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A Minister in a Box by Aaron Ben-Shahar

March 30th, 2019 — 12:50pm

Category: FT- Fiction Thriller

A Minister in a Box  by Aaron Ben-Shahar

This is an exciting adventure story that goes back and forth mostly between Jeronti, a small African nation, England and Israel. There are secret agents, some who had been very high up in the Mossad, as well a head Mafia guy, There is even an anesthesiologist who will keep the man in the box sedated as he is kidnapped in a most daring caper. At times I had difficulty keeping track of the characters, as their names were unfamiliar ones. But that did not stop this from being a page turner. (Yes, I actually read this in soft covered book.) Although this is touted as pure fiction, I could not help but wonder if some of the events may really have happened since the author has a history of having served in highly sensitive positions in Israel’s General Security Services.

 

 

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Time and Again by Jack Finney

March 26th, 2019 — 10:04pm

Category: FSF - Fiction Science Fiction

Time and Again by Jack Finney

As many readers know, this 1970 novel is about time travel, a subject that comes up from “time to time” in science fiction stories. In this case, the current book by Mr. Finney is a classic book in this genre.

The method of inducing time travel in the story is by “self-hypnosis” done by a unique individual who is familiar with the circumstances in the setting to which he is to travel and would be in a location which existed in the past as well as in the current time. It also is required that the time traveler has the ability to do self-hypnosis. Since I know a little about hypnosis, I found this method did not feel acceptable to me to induce “time travel” and therefore, I found it difficult to suspend my reality testing and imagine the method that was being used to achieve this goal. Whereas, another well-known book titled, 11/23/63 by Stephen King used a time travel method known as “rabbit hole” where the traveler steps through an opening such as one in the story that was in a pantry and then comes out in a particular time period and when he returns, he uses the same method to return to the time from which he departed. This method seemed more feasible to me. Go figure, I can’t really justify this critique.

Aside from the method of travel, the key problem in time travel is whether the time traveler will influence or effect or change events in the future (or in the time in which the traveler originated). This, of course, is a fascinating concept and is, in fact, a key element around which the story is built. Well, I don’t really accept the possibility of time travel at all. This aspect of theoretical time travel reminds me how everything we do influences the future. For example, if I had not accepted a blind date many years ago, my children and grandchildren would not exist as I know them today and my life would be quite different. Therefore, in some way, we all have influenced other people’s lives and maybe the course of history by every element in which we appear and interact with others. I find this interesting food for thought, but otherwise, this book was a fairly good adventure story with a few moments of literary tension.

 

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

March 19th, 2019 — 11:51am

Category: FG - Fiction General, FH - Fiction Historical

 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This book introduces the reader to the story of Koreans who migrated from Japan shortly before the outbreak of World War II. It also traces the occupation of Korea by the Japanese prior to this time and follows a family who lived in Japan for four generations. This book tells the story of discrimination against the Koreans by the Japanese. Through the depiction of various characters, the reader learns about family values, the role of women, religious beliefs and the impact of culture on the lives of this multi-generational Korean family.

The book takes the reader on an interesting journey which not only studies all aspects of the personalities and values of the characters, but also paints a very vivid picture of the bustling street markets in Korea as well as the life in the universities in Japan. There is also a very interesting and revealing story about “Pachinko”, a gambling parlor game that is common and also the connection to the criminal underworld of the people who run these games.

This is a good read which pulls back the curtain and reveals the lives of people who we may not have had the opportunity to meet and understand.

 

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On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

February 10th, 2019 — 4:23pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir, HI - History, P - Political

On Gold Mountain: A Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family by Lisa See.

If you do not know it, “Gold Mountain” is California and the story begins as the author’s great-great-grandfather Fong See arrives on the West Coast of the United States where he works making herbal remedies for other Chinese men working to build the railroad.. The book traces his intermarriage to Ticie and how he becomes involved in Chinese antiques and furniture. The arc of the story includes three generations, many of whom stayed in the family business, mostly in the Los Angeles area. We followed the progenitor and other family members as they often visit China and give money to family back home, and bring old Chinese antiques and furniture back to the United States. We come to appreciate the outrageous discrimination against the Chinese including American laws that directly targeted this group. We also learn about Chinese customs including the practice where men often had multiple wives which might include concubines and prostitutes.

This is an important book about the history and roots of Chinese-Americans. It serves a purpose of also being a family record of the ancestors of the author as well as many Americans who have roots in the immigration from China. I feel educated and more enlightened having read this book. I can understand why the author, who has written many best-selling novels, would have chosen to share her family history in this book.

Having said all of the above, I found the book quite tedious to read. The author should have provided a clear usable family tree diagram to follow the different characters and the various relationships.( There was a small family tree at the beginning of the book , which was very difficult to read on the I-Pad,) To the non-Chinese reader, the names were unfamiliar and frequently sounded the same. In addition, sometimes it appears that the author used two different names for the same character.

The author’s previous success as a novelist, I am sure led many people to explore this book. In my case, I only stayed with it because it was a selection of my book club. In the end, I am enlightened about Americans with Chinese heritage, but this is not a book that I would recommend for enjoyable reading.

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The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperial World by Robert Kagan

January 5th, 2019 — 11:35pm

Category: HI - History, P - Political

The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperial World by Robert Kagan

Robert Kagan, the author of this book is described by Wikipedia is a neoconservative American historian and foreign-policy commentator. It also notes that Kagan prefers the term “liberal interventionist” to describe himself. It goes on to say that some have characterized his approach to international relations as “realistic.”

This book is a review of political history mostly of the past century in terms of the American led liberal order versus an authoritarianism type of political system that might include a socialistic system with benevolent idealistic communism or a tribalistic system that evolved into a fascist government. Kagan is of course a historian as well as a political analyst. He discusses the importance of geography influencing government formation i.e. the relative isolation of Great Britain as compared to the rest of Europe and of course the United States being surrounded by two great oceans as compared to the crowding of Europe with various border issues there and in Africa and then South America.

The rise of various imperial leaders are analyzed in depth as well as the philosophies of Hitler, various Chinese leaders and those of American such as FDR and George Marshall after the end of World War II.

The social and political dominance or hegemony of various countries over others is looked at as history evolves and power flows and ebbs, is the theme of this book. Even to a non-historian reader such as this one, the book is very enlightening as it puts modern day political struggles even those in the United States at the present time, into a context of world history.

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The Defense Never Rests by F. Lee Bailey

January 5th, 2019 — 11:17pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir

The Defense Never Rests by F. Lee Bailey

My family and I were renting a house for the holiday season and I picked this book from a large bookcase in the rental home. It was published in 1971. The author was one of the most well-known and successful defense attorneys in the history of the United States. He has defended the accused in the famous “Torso Murder Case,” the people involved in the “Great Mail Robbery” as well as Sam Sheppard, Albert DeSalvo (also known as the Boston Strangler), Dr. Carl Coppolino and many years after this book was published he defended O.J. Simpson.

This book is written in the first person and clearly conveys the Bailey’s passion for his work. He not only believed in giving his clients the benefit of every possible legal defense but he also clearly was very passionate about the law and the judicial system. A good part of this book includes the exact wording taken from court records of examinations and cross-examinations from many of his high-profile cases. It is quite fascinating since he also provided the behind-the-scenes discussions with clients and other people involved, that shed light on the cases being litigated and the personalities involved.

Two recurring themes throughout this book deal with subjects that most of us don’t have much insight about. The first is the polygraph or lie detector. Bailey was a strong advocate of this instrument in allowing many of his clients to establish that they were telling the truth even though this test is not allowed in most courts. Another interesting subject which Bailey utilized was hypnosis. At times he brought in experts in this field to explore a client’s motivation and to demonstrate various aspects of the veracity of them.

I do acknowledge that at times I could not follow Baileys’ logic or trend of thought as he delved into the law and was preoccupied with his passion for establishing the grounds for his client’s innocence or the right to an appeal.

I am sure that this book has inspired many young people to enter the legal profession and has been a factor in young lawyers choosing to specialize and become a criminal defense attorney. Even if this is not a factor for you, this book will be a very interesting read.

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The Japanese Love by Isabel Allende

December 14th, 2018 — 1:59pm

Category: FG - Fiction General

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

The author provides an in-depth description of the various characters presented in the book. This includes the experience of a Jewish family in Eastern Europe as the Nazis take over, living in a Japanese internment camp in the United States during World War II, as well as the subsequent life of some of the survivors of these events. We also meet a young woman who suffered from tremendous abuse and molestation as a child by her stepfather. However, this writer found this book disjointed as it jumped from one character to the other without any particular theme or purpose. While this approach often allows for the unfolding of the background after we have met a character much as a therapist learns the psychodynamics as the sessions progress, each of these tales did not seem to have coherence. Even the love lives of the various subjects of the book while very interesting did not seem to have relevance to any storyline. It may very well be that the characters were based on real people and this is the nature of their lives. If this is the case, the author gave no such clue in any postscript to the book. Certainly, we are open-minded and appreciate any variations in the love life and relationships that people may have but a novel describing these things becomes more engaging when we can see how they develop or have some insight into any response or struggle to a biological propensity.

The author certainly had empathy for how people might deal with aging as she tried to show how her main characters handled the late stages of life. It is also interesting to try to understand how the author chose the title for her book. The essence of the various stories in my opinion was not simply centered around this particular man or the fact that he was Japanese. Although I had concerns, this book appears to have been well received by the public and is another best seller from Ms. Allende.

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Becoming by Michelle Obama

December 7th, 2018 — 12:36am

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s story should be of great interest to many people because it is a great example of the American dream of a family who worked so hard that their children could have an opportunity for a good education and success in life. It is a story of how a Black-American was able to overcome the prejudices that still exist in this country. In addition this is a first hand account of an intelligent, ambitious woman who not only achieved success in life but also has worked incessantly to give others a fair chance to make the most of their lives. And of course, it is about a woman who married a man who became president of the United States, which gave her the opportunity to become first lady of this country. In this position, she was able to give hope and opportunity to many others. It is also the inside view of the fascinating life in the White House for eight years during Barack Obama’s presidency.

If you were looking for Michelle Obama’s deep-rooted feelings about Donald Trump, you won’t get too much of an inside story. She was angered by Trump’s supporting the false idea that her husband was not born in the United States and she believed that this endangered her family. She reiterated the fact that he is a misogynist and was appalled of the way he has treated women in the past.

It is not surprising that this Princeton University and Harvard law school graduate can write quite well. Although she credits many people for helping her with this book, I am sure she would be just as clear and interesting in any personal conversation as she was in this very readable and worthwhile book.

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Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney

November 28th, 2018 — 11:18pm

Category: FG - Fiction General

Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk by Kathleen Rooney

This is a story about a remarkable woman born at the turn of the 20th century and who died in the mid 1980s. It is a work of fiction by a very talented writer who based this novel on the writings of Margaret Fishback, whose archives she studied in depth. Ms. Fishback was a poet, feminist and a highly paid advertising executive for R. H. Macy, the world renowned department store in New York City.

There is no real plot or storyline for this book. Each charming chapter tells a story of a particular event in the life of this woman. It is told often by flashbacks as she takes a stroll through her beloved Manhattan. It might be how she fell in love at first sight, her marriage, her pregnancy, the birth of her son, having to leave her job because she gave birth to her child, her divorce, a day at work at R.H. Macy, various parties she has attended or one of the many strolls that she did through Manhattan.

What makes this book so engrossing was the ability of the author to hold the reader’s attention with her insight into herself and the people around her. Of course, the credit for the success of this book must go to Ms. Rooney, the author, although we cannot know how much of the compelling nature of it came from the writings of Ms. Fishback, which were discovered and credited by the author. I found this book a page turner and a very good read.

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