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

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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Letters To My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi

November 8th, 2018 — 10:05pm

Category: P - Political

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi

I remember very clearly as a young boy, the great happiness among my family and friends on May 14, 1948 when there was the formal declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel. I also recall my first trip to Israel as a medical student with my wife in 1963 as part of a program for young Jews to better appreciate the meaning and the importance of the State of Israel. One more related memory for me to set the tone of my feelings about this book was nine years later, when I entered our synagogue with my family in 1973 on Yom Kipper and was shocked to learn of the surprise invasion of Israel by Syria and Egypt. Subsequently, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Israel a couple of times with my family over the years including one time as Visiting Professor at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

I have never been any type of scholar of the Israeli-Arab dispute and conflict. I understand that the Arabs have great animosity towards the Jews and feel that the land of Israel is also Palestine, their homeland. As I came to appreciate the persistence of the Arab’s feelings and entitlement about Israel, I began to side with the idea of the “two-state solution.” My reasoning was that the Israelis could live in peace and their families would be safe and there would not be any threats. I assumed that the Arabs should feel the same way. This book was to teach me that I was quite naive in my simple views of the situation.

The author of this book is an Israeli scholar, born in the United States, but moved to Israel when he was a young man. He not only knows the Jewish history but is also very knowledgeable and understanding of the history of the Arabs and the origin of their feeling towards Palestine. He reminds the reader of his book that both people had their origin as being descendants from the two sons of Abraham. He wrote this book as a series of letters to his Palestinian neighbor whose home he can see from his own house off in a distance on top of a hill. He traces the history of the Jewish people and their connection to the land of Israel in a very compelling manner. He fills in many of the gaps in my knowledge and provides a depth of understanding that adds to the stories we tell at Passover or during the various Jewish holidays and when we read and discuss parts of the Torah or when we do these things during Jewish holidays, Bar Mitzvahs or any services at the synagogue.

Halevi clearly makes the case that the Jews are not only a religion but a people and have a commitment and a connection to the land of Israel. He wants his Palestinian neighbors to appreciate this. At the same time, he presents a very measured understanding of the Palestinian’s attachment to the land. He reviews the situation of how Prime Minister Menachem Begin almost brought Israel to accept the compromised two-state solution, but the Arabs could not honestly agree to such an arrangement. This book doesn’t offer a solution for the seemingly intractable problem. However, he feels sure that the Israelis could eventually accept the two-state solution if they truly believe that the other side would support this and recognize their right to exist. Only then would there would be a chance for living in peace and harmony. What comes across in this book is that the author is empathic to the feelings of his neighbors and hopes that someday, they will reciprocate this feeling. His book is very well done and will be quite enlightening to most readers as it was for me.

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Waking Lions by Ayelet-Gundar-Gosher

October 15th, 2018 — 1:12pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery

 Waking Lions  by Ayelet-Gundar-Gosher

 The setting is modern day Israel. A neurosurgeon in the early evening at the end of his shift at the hospital, takes his SUV out on an open road to release some of the tension built-up during the day. After speeding on what he thought was a deserted road, he hears a thud. Upon getting out of the car, he realizes that he has killed black Eritrean man. He uncharacteristically decides to leave the scene of the accident and vows to tell no one what happened. His wife, who is a homicide detective, is assigned the case.

Certainly, this has the makings of a great story, which it is. However, the author is intent on also making it a study of many aspects of human behavior including marital relationships, honesty, fidelity, blackmail, prejudice, discrimination, drugs, conscience and a lot more, perhaps too much. I can see that the author deserves the accolades that she has received for the book, as she has developed many wonderful skillful metaphors worked into the narrative. For me, however, these many deviations or sidetracks directed me away from my interest in the characters and the plot. I found myself reading faster and faster and flicking my finger more quickly on my iPad as I was not inclined to reflect as much as the author wanted me to do. This may have been my shortcoming as the book was very well received and recommended to me from people that I highly respect.

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Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

October 5th, 2018 — 8:01pm

Category: Social

Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

Although this book bemoans the loss of conversation because of modern technology, I don’t believe I have recently read a book that stimulated more conversation with people who are important to me than this one did. Early in the book, there is a reference to a cute two-minute video which had 51 million hits the last time I looked. It is titled “I Forgot My Phone” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OINa46HeWg8). The response to this simple message reveals to me the awareness that people now have concerning their increasing dependency on their phones.

It is stating the obvious that people are on their phones much of the time, at the dinner table, while working, in school, walking in the street, riding in the car-frequently while driving, before going to sleep, just after waking up, as well as in many more places and situations. The author hammers home the point which should be obvious, but perhaps it is not, that texts, emails, emojis, etc. are taking the place of real conversations between people. Replying to a text or email while you are with people is not a real conversation with the person who is in your presence or with your phone partner. In person conversations facilitate real relationships and creativity.

The impact of this book, which is based on a good deal of personal research by the author as well as studying other peoples’ research and observations, is not simply a loss of the art of or advantages of meaningful conversation. Ms. Turkle makes a very strong argument and a scary one, as she gives numerous examples proving the point, that the more we communicate with our phones as compared to being in person, the more we lose the ability to have empathy and to be empathic with other people. The ability to relate to others and to understand their feelings is the essence of what makes us human. Ms. Turkle is making a very compelling case that modern technology is making us lose our humanity.

This point is made in the book numerous times. While it is even somewhat repetitious, there is great value to see it in so many different contexts. For example, there is a parent who takes a small child to the park and is looking at his or her phone rather than looking and talking to the child. The author gives the all familiar example of a family who is at home or in the car with children involved in games or texting as the parents are likewise preoccupied with their phones rather than the family relating to each other. When there should be an in person creative business meeting, instead the meeting is held by Skype during which the participants are multitasking in their own locations. There is a school lunch table where friends instead of talking and understanding each other, are looking at their latest texts. There are obviously numerous other examples that could be made and are made in this book.

While the results of the invasion of our phones and all that goes with it is scary and discouraging, there is hope. The author talks about families, businesses and schools that are addressing these issues with no phone zones, no phones at meals or in the car and other creative ways of bringing people together and encouraging conversation. However, it is also clear that we are far from solving this problem. In fact, the author shows us with many examples that we are regressing “Siri” to robots who we want to take care of us. Do we believe that artificial intelligent machines can understand and respond to us? Where are we going with this issue? What should we do about the effects of modern technology on our humanity and the impact on our children. Read this book and keep talking about this subject.

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Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

September 11th, 2018 — 11:52pm

Category: FH - Fiction Historical

 

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

In the nine years that I have been writing my blog (BookRap.net), more than 10% of the 164 books I have reviewed have had “Holocaust” as a keyword listed in the search section. This does not include the many books on the subject I have read before that time which include three that stand out in my mind; Diary of Anne Frank, Sophie’s Choice, and Schindler’s List. I was a small child safely living in the United States when World War II ended. While many of my older relatives escaped Europe before the war and none were concentration camp survivors, I felt a deep link with my unknown Jewish relatives and their friends and neighbors who were victims of this terrible atrocity. This connection was reinforced early in my career when I was a director of a mental health clinic in Brooklyn and we saw many survivors and children of survivors.

Early in this book, while I was feeling my usual attachment to this terrible piece of history, I found myself asking, “Why am I going through these events once again?” I thought there was nothing really new here. However, as the book progressed, I did notice that it turned to a specific piece of history which I don’t recall as often relived in books and film on the subject; that is the one German concentration camp which was exclusively for women and that was Ravensbruck. It gave a depiction of the horrendous Nazi experiments that took place on these women with cruel and destructive surgery to their legs in order to test the effects of a new antibiotic. The story related how these women were made to participate in slave labor and then were selected to be murdered when they became ill or too weak to work or just to meet a quota for a certain number of murders to be done. After their death, their bodies would be put in an oven for cremation.

While this book is a novel by Martha Hall Kelly, the author did spend several years researching the background of the lives of some of the characters upon which the book was based. She also did appear to earn the right to write this book in the first person, as she appeared to know quite well the characters who were featured in it as she allowed them to tell their story. She went back and forth with each character mostly during the war years, but there were a few chapters 10 to 15 years during the post-war period.

I believe there was a special sensitivity that the author showed from a woman’s point of view. The deep mother-daughter relationship was explored in various very difficult circumstances as well as the bond that existed between two sisters in the most terrifying and unimaginable situations. Of course, there also was the connection between other women who were living together through this tragic time.

While this book perhaps becomes another book with a keyword “Holocaust” on my blog, I also know it will be an excellent contemporary novel that will be available and hopefully one with great appeal to today’s generation of readers, so this piece of history will never be forgotten.

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