Clark Zlotchew's Blog

January 24, 2013

A POWERFUL PUNCH: My reaction to the novel, At What Cost, by J. Andersen, surprised me tremendously. The book is classified as young adult, which is not my preferred type of reading. In fact, I had never even read a novel in that category, since I am far from being in the projected audience. In addition, it concerns a sixteen-year-old high school girl who finds herself pregnant.

In today’s world, this is not an uncommon occurrence. I assumed it would be a maudlin account of a wayward teenager. But once I began to read the novel, I began to like the protagonist and to feel a great interest in this vulnerable girl’s fate. This immediate interest, of course, is the result of J. Andersen’s writing skill.

Maggie, the protagonist, is sincerely in love with Justin, the handsome, charming and reluctant father. Maggie’s family is dysfunctional. Her mother is a perfectionist; everything has to be absolutely perfect. She is always expertly coiffed, her dinner table must be set following all the rules of etiquette, and, as she often tells Maggie, everything the members of the family do reflect on the family’s honor, on the family’s reputation in the community. Maggie and her mother are constantly arguing about what to most people would seem petty: e.g. the right clothing to wear when leaving the house.

Maggie’s father is the strong, silent type who spends so much time at his business –he feels it his duty to work as much as possible in order to give the material best to his family—that he has no time to enjoy his family, to interact with his daughter. Maggie, like any teen-age girl needs a certain rapport with her father, but feels it is missing.

Naturally, the protagonist interprets the behavior of her parents –constant nagging and arguments with her mother, lack of interaction with her father—as lack of love. She seeks the closeness, the love she yearns for in the arms of her boyfriend, Justin.

Justin strongly urges her to have an abortion. Maggie feels that such a procedure would be a tremendous relief for her anxiety, would free her from the prospect of being disowned by her family and mocked by her classmates. Following Justin’s advice would certainly solve all the problems that bearing a child at the age of sixteen would entail.

In addition, no one other than Justin would even know of her pregnancy. She would be free to pursue teenage fun with no encumbrances. At the same time, she is frightened of the procedure, and has to contend with her feminine mother instinct.

The bulk of the novel revolves around the struggle in Maggie’s mind over whether to abort or to carry full term and be a mother at the age of sixteen. There are forces tugging at her in both directions. In the end, she is the one to make the decision. This is a heavy responsibility for a sixteen-year-old girl.

A novel with the premises described above could be a tawdry, pedestrian and overly-sentimental narration that would ineluctably bore the reader. This is absolutely not the case in At What Cost. On the contrary, Andersen is a highly talented and accomplished writer. Her writing skill engages the reader from the very beginning, builds up tension through a deep penetration into the young girl’s psyche, her internal struggle between early motherhood and all its ramifications, on one hand, and the potentially liberating procedure of abortion.

My description of this novel does little to convey the tension, suspense, drama and emotion generated by a reading of this book. The only way to experience these elements is to read the book.

At What Cost seizes the reader by the heartstrings from the very beginning and never lets go. The various characters are drawn with absolute clarity; the reader knows each one of them intimately. This novel packs a powerful punch and will be long remembered by the reader..At What Cost

November 29, 2012

This book completely turns on its head my ideas about a unique personage in Twentieth Century Russian history.

Anyone who knows anything about the so-called “Mad Monk” from Siberia who influenced the royal house of Romanov will likely find his/her concept of this enigmatic man absolutely reversed by the facts presented in this paperback. We can thank Delin Colon for this examination of the character of the real man named Grigory Efimovich Rasputin.

It is amazing how historical “facts” can be recorded as truth, even though these so-called facts have absolutely no basis in reality. Sometimes the ideas that are considered common wisdom actually are diametrically opposed to reality. Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History is a remedy to a legend that is widely accepted as history.

There is a widespread belief that Rasputin, the “Mad Monk,” was a thoroughly evil man who enjoyed sway over the Tsarina, and through her over the Tsar himself. Rasputin is usually thought of as a wild, crazed peasant , a self-styled monk, who loved doing evil for his own amusement. He is thought of as the one responsible for the fall of the house of Romanov.

It is true that Rasputin was a Russian monk of peasant origins. It is true that he was close to the Romanovs. Because he was a Russian peasant, because he was a monk and was close to the Tsar’s family, it is assumed that he must have been an anti-Semite.

It is true that the Russian peasantry was fiercely anti-Semitic. It is true that the Tsar hated the Jews. The clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church were extremely hostile to the Jews. It would be only natural to put these elements together and make the assumption that Rasputin would be anti-Semitic.

It is known that he was murdered by several Russian noblemen. It is also usually accepted that the perpetrators of this murder were good and brave men who were ridding the royal family, the Russian Empire and perhaps all of humanity from this charismatic madman.

Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History, by Delin Colon, is truly what the subtitle claims to be; it presents Rasputin in a completely different light. Ms. Colon has assembled a weighty bibliography, including the writings of those who knew him personally, both sympathizers and enemies, and extracts from them a fascinating picture of this holy man.

Grigory Efimovich Rasputin, born in Siberia probably in 1870 and assassinated in 1916, is shown by Ms. Colon to be a true humanitarian. He gave unselfishly to the poor and to the ill; money seemed to have no importance to him, except as a means to help the unfortunate.

He did his best to influence the Tsar into bettering the lot of the peasants, who led a miserable life. He strenuously, though unsuccessfully, attempted to better the lot of the Tsar’s Jewish subjects by giving them equal rights before the law, and to end the quota system, the pogroms and many other forms of persecution. It took courage to go against that deep vein of Russian hatred of the Jews and to try to move the Tsar.

Rasputin and the Jews, as its title indicates, focuses primarily –but far from exclusively—on Rasputin’s efforts to help the severely oppressed Jewish population. His efforts cannot be appreciated fully without knowing what conditions were for this despised minority. Therefore, very near the beginning of the book are chapters that detail this subject.

What we find is an almost unbroken record of extremely harsh treatment: slaughter, expulsion, pillage, and forced conversions, among other methods of oppression. This, of course, was a common occurrence in all of Europe in the Middle Ages, but in the Tsar’s empire it continued into the late Nineteenth Century and the Twentieth Century.

Typically the peasants, the Church, the Cossacks, and the aristocracy viscerally hated the Jews, as did the Tsar himself. In other words, this hatred permeated all classes of the Russian people.

In addition to the pogroms, Jewish boys were forcibly inducted into the Russian army at the age of thirteen, and in some cases as young as eight years old, and forced to serve for from 25 to 30 years – isolated from any Jewish society-- during which time they were subjected to physical abuse in the attempt to convert them to Christianity. It is important to understand this if one is to appreciate the unwelcome efforts of this “Mad Monk” to alleviate the suffering of the Jews.

Colon shows that Rasputin was truly a man of God who loved humanity and hated cruelty. What is true in the legend of this man, as Colon shows, is that he actually was a healer. She quotes Joseph Fuhrman, who in turn quotes Dr. Federov, the hemophilia specialist in charge of the Tsarevitch’s medical team, who stated that he was unable to stop the prince’s bleeding by any method. Further, according to this report, Rasputin would merely look at the little prince for a very brief time, and the bleeding would stop.

Colon presents statements by various different people who were cured of a variety of afflictions, from migraines to paralysis and even of addiction to gambling, using extremely unorthodox methods. His Jewish secretary, cured of his passion for gambling, fell back into this habit after Rasputin’s death. This is hard to believe, but perhaps it had something to do with the power of suggestion on susceptible minds. Whatever the reason, it is striking that so many people attest to this power of his.
Rasputin hated warfare with its death and destruction, and tried repeatedly, although unsuccessfully, to convince Nikolai not to go to war in 1914. Russia’s participation in the First World War exacted a heavy price on the Tsar’s Empire in lives lost and economic destruction; it also set into motion a chain of events that would ultimately result in revolution and the death of the Tsar and his entire family.

We find, in this book, that this monk possessed a tolerance for the beliefs of others that is truly amazing in a Russian monk of peasant origins in the Nineteenth Century. Citing Yves Ternon, Colon informs us that Rasputin had “little respect for the clergy and considered that all religions were valuable and were just different ways of understanding God.” Who would suspect that Rasputin, the Mad Monk, would feel that way?

The picture that is formed of Rasputin in this relatively small book (110 pages) is that of a true man of God, a healer, a true humanitarian, a prophet, a courageous champion of the peasants and of the Jews. It is precisely because of these attributes that he made enemies of the aristocracy.

Delin Colon, bases herself on the writings of many witnesses, both friendly and hostile, including those who knew him personally. Moreover she makes her points forcefully, directly and succinctly. She does a great service to history by her research and her extremely readable style.

April 18, 2012

Rabbit in the Moon, by Deborah M. Shlian
Rabbit in the Moon is a thriller that takes place mainly in China and Los Angeles. Although it is a thriller, there is a strong romantic element in it as well (and I'm definitely NOT a fan of romances). This element does not take away from the suspense, in fact it adds to it. The book might become a crossover into mainstream because of human relations subplot, but it is a page turner. The center of the story is an element of science fiction as well. It also gives an insider's look at modern Chinese culture and politics and recent history.
Rabbit in the Moon
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Published on April 18, 2012 09:49 • 105 views • Tags: china, los-angeles, modern-chinese-culture, politics, romance, science-fiction, suspense, thriller

January 3, 2012

I read the first Signet printing of this book by Daniel Silva. This one takes place in Northern Ireland and in England. It is connected to "the troubles" in Northern Ireland between Republicans (Catholics who want to merge with the Republic Of Ireland)Unionists or Loyalists (Protestants who want Ulster to continue being part of the U.K.)
This book is, happily what fans of Daniel Silva (I'm one of them) would expect. A great deal of political intrigue in which all is not what it seems, and violent action. It probably is trite to say this, but this really is a book you do not want to put down. It keeps you intently and excitedly reading, and produces tension and suspense, so that you cannot help wanting to know what happens next. CAUTION: Do not start before bedtime, because if you do, you will be reading long after bedtime, and will stop only when you can no longer keep your eyes open or when you've finished the book. The Marching Season (Michael Osbourne, #2) by Daniel SilvaThe Marching Season
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Published on January 03, 2012 11:08 • 76 views • Tags: england, ira, ireland, northern-ireland, political-intrigue, suspense, tension, thriller, ulster, united-kingdom, violent-action

December 31, 2011

Libido into Literature: The "Primera Epoca" of Benito Perez Galdos, originally published by Borgo Press in 1993, had been out of print for about 15 years due to the demise of Borgo Press. It has now been published again by Authors Guild's Backinprint.com program.

This book traces Galdos's earliest thinking concerning the dynamic relationship among individual, society and nature as it develops and changes in this early phase of his writing. It elucidates the imagery, the symbolism, evocative language, biblical and mythological motifs, the rich battery of literary devices with which the greatest writer of Spain since Cervantes converts unconscious material into literature. The works covered represent a period of artistic apprenticeship and idelogical struggle within Galdos's mind.Libido into Literature: The "Primera Epoca" of Benito Perez GaldosLibido into Literature: The "Primera Epoca" of Benito Perez Galdos Libido into Literature  The "Primera Epoca" of Benito Perez Galdos by Clark M. Zlotchew Libido into Literature  The "Primera Epoca" of Benito Perez Galdos by Clark M. Zlotchew

December 23, 2011

The following is from an email written by Professor Emeritus of English, John Stinson: On Sun, Dec 18, 2011 at 9:44 PM, John Stinson wrote:
I read The Caucasian Menace about three months ago in no
> more than three or four sittings because of its sure grip and skillful pace.
> The craft of the book is, I'm sure, enviable to anyone who desires to write a
> thriller or fiction of almost any kind, and it's just a great read for
> anyone. I'm in awe, too, for just how much you manage to get done.The Caucasian Menace
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Published on December 23, 2011 13:08 • 91 views • Tags: craft, fiction, great-read, review, skillful-pace, sure-grip, the-caucasian-menace, thriller

November 17, 2011

In this novel, the break-away Republic of Dagestan has nuclear warheads left over from the Soviet Union. The democratically-elected president has been ousted in a coup, and the usurper is intent on selling some of the warheads to Iran and/or terrorist organizations. He also holds a Russian nuclear physicist whom he intends to sell as well. To prevent interference with his plans, the usurper has nuclear missiles trained on key European capitals.
Neither the U.N. nor NATO will take action. The United States, wishing to avoid a nuclear disaster, cannot take any overt action. CIA operatives Baker and Gold are assigned to help the Loyalist army eliminate the usurper and help the Loyalists to recover the reins of government, while avoiding a nuclear confrontation. They must also rescue the scientist and prevent the sale of nuclear warheads to rogue states or terrorists.
Complicating matters, Baker’s wife had been tortured and murdered years before by Thorne, the sadistic mercenary now employed by the usurper. Gold fears that Baker may have killing Thorne as his top priority, rather than capturing him for questioning. Meanwhile, William Bell, their immediate superior, has been selling information to the usurper that could result in failure of the mission and the deaths of Baker and Gold.
Dagestan, in the real world, has been the scene of violence, much of it spilling over from neighboring Chechnya, but some of it internal. There are 36 different languages and dialects in this mountainous region, and the ethnic groups associated with those languages. The republic is part of the Russian Federation, and news from this republic as well as from the entire North Caucasus Region is tightly censored.
Clark ZlotchewThe Caucasian Menace

September 21, 2011

I read this in the original Spanish, and then in a bilingual (Spanish-English, facing pages) version. This short novel, or novelette, is a jewel. It is packed with the feeling of an unbreakable, relentless destiny in store for a young man in Mexico City. Felipe Montero, a public school teacher, answers a want add in the newspaper because the description of the person being sought for a much higher-paying job seems to be an exact description of Montero, as though it were specifically reaching out to him and no one else. The feeling of implacable fate, expressed symbolically in many ways, is backed even by the grammar: the story is told in the present and the future. A statement like, "You will move a few steps..." in the future tense makes one feel it has to happen, there is no choice. (Unfortunately, this feature is lost in the English translation of the facing bilingual edition I've read.)

His employer is an extremely old woman (Consuelo) in a big old house sandwiched among modern building and businesses. It seems out of place in the commercial district of downtown Mexico City. There are no electric lights in the house, the drapes are always drawn, so that the house, even at noon, is in a deep darkness. Except for the old woman's bedroom which is lit by multiple candles.

Felipe does not want to live in that house, but it's part of the deal. He is about to refuse, it seems, when Aura, a beautiful young girl appears. He stays.

An unusual technique used in Aura is the point of view of the second-person singular. The constant use of TU (YOU)as the subject draws the reader into the fictional world, or conversely, pulls the fictional world out into the reader's world. The reader --with the suspension of disbelief-- becomes Felipe Montero, the protagonist, and carries out and will carry out, is fated to carry out, the action of the plot.

The novel is filled with highly poetic, metaphorical language as well as symbolism, especially color symbolism, with magic and sexual passion. Depending on one's interpretation, the novel may contain witchcraft and magic, or hypnotism or transmigration of souls. Whichever the explanation you choose, it is a fast-moving, page-turning, fascinating book.
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Published on September 21, 2011 14:16 • 711 views • Tags: aura, carlos-fuentes, destiny, fate, magic, magical-realism, mexico-city, reincarnation, sex, sexuality, symbolism, transmigration-of-souls, transubstantiation, witchcraft

September 5, 2011

The Guns of August
by Barbara W. Tuchman

As always, Barbara W. Tuchman delves deeply into the historical subject matter. This book is about the First World War, its causes, the conduct of it, and the results. I see that what I've just written in the preceding sentence doesn't sound inviting; it comes off as dry and uninteresting. But this book is anything but that. It is actually exciting in its description of the progress of the war, and the various armies. It is also fascinating to burrow into the causes and the intrigue involved. It seems almost like a thriller. Ms. Tuchman, Pulitzer Prize winner, as always, does exhaustive research before tackling a book, totally familiarizes herself with the facts and comments, give a deep analysis of the events, the how and why and when, and who, describes in vivid detail the events and their consequences, shows great insight about the facts, and, perhaps best of all, writes in a manner that makes history as exciting as an adventure story. For me, it was a page-turner. We delve into the personalities that brought about the war, and their manner of prosecuting it. We learn, in addition to all the important matters relating to this war, interesting tidbits as well, such as the fact that an army on the march can be smelled for some distance, since there are so many men together, and since they haven't had a chance to take a bath or change clothes for some time. Fascinating reading.



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Ms. Tuchman, Pulitzer Prize winner, as always, does exhaustive research before tackling a book, totally familiarizes herself with the facts and comments, give a deep analysis of the events, the how and why and when, and who, describes in vivid detail the events and their consequences, shows great insight about the facts, and, perhaps best of all, writes in a manner that makes history as exciting as an adventure story. For me, it was a page-turner. We delve into the personalities that brought about the war, and their manner of prosecuting it. We learn, in addition to all the important matters relating to this war, interesting tidbits as well, such as the fact that an army on the march can be smelled for some distance, since there are so many men together, and since they haven't had a chance to take a bath or change clothes for some time. Fascinating reading.
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Published on September 05, 2011 15:26 • 95 views • Tags: armies, austrian-hungarian-empire, barbara-w-tuchman, britain, france, germany, history, ottoman-empire, strategies, tactics, u-s-a, war, warfare, ww-i

September 1, 2011

Rules of Deception
by Christopher Reich
Clark Zlotchew's review
Aug 30, 11 · edit
Read from August 17 to 28, 2011 — I own a copy
BCID: (generate)

Christopher Reich, in Rules of Deception, outdoes himself. The action of this espionage/thriller starts on the very first page. The reader has no choice but to keep following the action. All the action is set in Switzerland, but has ramification around the world. There are, in addition to exciting action, very complicated connections between characters, and more twists and turns than a labyrinth. It is fascinating the way in which Reich leads you to believe that character X is a "good guy" only to find that he is not, or in the case of character Y, you think he's a villain, then "realize" he is on the right side, only to find he is a villain after all. Several characters have more than one identity. It is fascinating to see how the male protagonist, who has no experience in foreign intrigue and is connected to no intelligence or counter-intelligence agency (he is a doctor with Doctors Without Borders), gets sucked into an extremely complex (and dangerous) set of circumstances and unwittingly turns into a major player in this life-and-death chess game.
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Published on September 01, 2011 12:08 • 82 views • Tags: christopher-reich, doctors-without-borders, espionage, international-intrigue, iran, israel, middle-east, novel, skiing, switzerland, thriller, uavs