Nov 302012
 

Very rarely is an author’s style so obstructionist that it interferes, but sadly, Kanon’s frequent indecipherability kept me from finishing.  Too bad.  I was in the mood for this kind of book.  World War II has just ended and the Cold War is heating up.  Former war spies are being called upon to acquire former Nazis for our side before the communists can claim them.  Istanbul is packed with undercover and double agents and is the perfect location for secret nighttime transfers of intelligence.  Not deep stuff, but surely the basis for fun.  At first, I gave Kanon the benefit of the doubt when he started the story midstream.  Then I figured he was being obscure because that must be how espionage feels.  But after one hundred pages of not being able to track his plot nor be certain who was speaking I gave up in frustration.

 

Nov 152012
 

Jozef Ondrej is taken by his father as an infant, after his mother dies, to the mountains of central Europe on the eve of the First World War.  After his father has raised him to be a shepherd with expertise in managing himself alone in the forest with nothing more than a rifle, Jozef enlists in the Emperor’s army to defend the Austro-Hungarian empire.  Appointed as a sniper, he hikes for days through the Ruso-Carpathian mountains picking off Italian soldiers with expert marksmanship and mechanical indifference.  He hikes some more and fights on the front lines.  He is captured and walked and entrained to a prison camp on Sardinia and when he is released he walks home, pausing to engage a relationship with a largely silent, but very pregnant, gypsy girl.  His sojourn, the book’s title, is more mileage, than mental or spiritual so we discover countries and perspectives on World War I that never occurred to us, but in the end we have covered so many miles that we too are just tired, but never really have gotten inside of Josef’s head.

Nov 152012
 

 

An African American soldier returns from fighting in Korea with his mind in tatters.  The army was integrated and ordered, but his experience was profoundly horrifying.  Back in a segregated United States, where a black man can and often is abused for the color of his skin, he wanders dark streets, loses his money, drinks to excess, and suffers from what we call today PTSD. Slowly he heads south, into the belly of the beast, to rescue his sister, abused by a doctor doing the kind of research performed too readily on minorities in the 1940s and 1950s.  In the end, the men of this book are beaten physically and spiritually.  All the women are strong.  And all the children are largely invisible.  To learn more about unethical medical research, read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but to really understand the plight of African Americans in the Jim Crow U.S., read The Warmth of Other Suns.