Archive for 2019

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

April 16th, 2019 — 9:54pm

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.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, T - Recommended for Teenagers

A Minister in a Box by Aaron Ben-Shahar

March 30th, 2019 — 12:50pm

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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Comment » | FT- Fiction Thriller

Time and Again by Jack Finney

March 26th, 2019 — 10:04pm

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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Comment » | FSF - Fiction Science Fiction

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

March 19th, 2019 — 11:51am


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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Comment » | FG - Fiction General, FH - Fiction Historical

On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

February 10th, 2019 — 4:23pm

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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Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, HI - History, P - Political

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

January 5th, 2019 — 11:35pm

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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Comment » | HI - History, P - Political

The Defense Never Rests by F. Lee Bailey

January 5th, 2019 — 11:17pm

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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Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir

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