**spoiler alert** A truly wonderful book. Full of whimsy, surprises, and characters who come to quickly seem like old friends.
Set in the newly Communi...more**spoiler alert** A truly wonderful book. Full of whimsy, surprises, and characters who come to quickly seem like old friends.
Set in the newly Communist Laos in 1976, the book spends little time on polemics and theory, and more on the everyday hardships of a poor country now magnified because of the requirement of being politically correct and of following the idealogical rules. These situations present sadness, but also the way the main character deals with them is so droll and full of whimsy, that I was quite often laughing out loud.
The main character is Siri, a 72 year old doctor who only wants to retire, and is more of a relaxed Communist. He has no training as a coroner, but that doesn't stop the judicial department from deciding that putting things together means he is also qualified to take them apart. He has very little in terms of modern appliances, chemicals, or texts to help him study the remains of the dead to determine how they met their end. His job is determine if there has been a crime committed, and if so, how it was done.
Fortunately, or not, he can see spirits, and the dead visit him and perform clues and final moments for him. He puzzles at their information and tries to use everything at his disposal to do his job well. He feels he owes it to those who come to the morgue. They have become not dead things, but people who need their peace and dignity restored.
He becomes embroiled in several dangerous cases with political overtones. One within the power structure of his rulers, and the other involving Vietnam and a possible spark to war. In the middle of his dangerous case load he is also sent to a H'Mong village where the ranking Laotian military officers are dying strangely. His sojourn among the H'Mong, serves to awaken more of his supernatural ability and he learns to tap into the spiritual aspect of his ancient land. The magical realism element is done very well, and complements the tone of the story without seeming to be too silly, powerful, or the answer for all things.
Through out it all Siri, is surrounded by friends, co-workers, and neighbors who are drawn so well that they seem like old friends. I can imagine them living on after the book ends. And while the book deals with death and the cutting up of bodies, the story is redolent with tenderness, caring, and great respect for the sanctity of all life. The author manages this without seeming preachy or schmaltzy.
I can't wait to get my hands on book 2 in the series to continue reading more.(less)
**spoiler alert** Tengu is the 3rd book in this series. The focus of the stories is on Connor Burke and his attempts to master the martial arts with h...more**spoiler alert** Tengu is the 3rd book in this series. The focus of the stories is on Connor Burke and his attempts to master the martial arts with his Japanese teacher, Yamashita.
The series is set in the modern day in New York City, though the stories incorporate a lot of travel. Connor is a PHD in Asian History and teaches as a part time college instructor when he can. His life is centered on his relationship with his Sensei, and the Sensei's Dojo where Connor also teaches and learns. He is also part of a large Irish clan, and he is particularly close to his brother, Mickey, a cop in NYC.
The relationship between Connor and his brother and Mickey's partner Art is another aspect of the stories. It grounds Connor in the modern day, and real life. It is also how Connor often gets involved in the mystery/thriller aspect of the stories. He is brought in as an outside expert/consultant on Asian/martial arts crimes. He also has connections and obligations as the primary student of Yamashita and that brings in the Japanese aspects of the stories. Donohue blends the various strands well to tell a modern day story influenced by the past and other cultures.
While the series is called a martial arts thriller the focus is not just on macho actions, technique and chicken screaming. What Connor is trying to learn is the whole ball of wax: the discipline, the beliefs, the way to exist in the world minute to minute; the essence that when absorbed will change the person's spirit as surely as the practice of the techniques will change the physical body. The book doesn't wallow in the mystical or metaphysical, but does show Connor's attempts, doubts and struggles to learn and incorporate into his life these more difficult lessons. It makes for a reflective POV and a more rounded and interesting character.
There are martial arts fights, and talk about them, but it never bogs down the story or stops the flow. There is also information about Japanese culture, history and the different schools of martial arts. The various techniques with their strengths and flaws are discussed in a way that explores how they are taught, their underlying philosophy, and how to defend against them. It is very informative and very interesting, but worked into the story rather than added as an info dump.
I have read the other 2 previous books in the series Sensei and Deshi, but am not a martial arts aficionado (though I do love Erik Van Lustbader’s books as well). What I do enjoy is a well written book with an interesting setting, good characters and an absorbing story. Donohue delivers on all accounts. Tengu is built on the events in the previous books, so they should be read first.
I read this book in one sitting. It was a bit slow at the start, but when Connor made an appearance it sucked me right in and never let go. This story is based on the events of a previous book. Another old Japanese martial arts master has a grudge against Yamashita, and has concocted a plot to exact his revenge. It involves kidnapping a Japanese graduate anthropology student from a wealthy and important family, the use of Muslim terrorists and it all takes place in the Philippines. We also get glimpses of the US military working against terrorists at home and those who are working with the Filipinos to fight them in the field.
In this book Connor is also trying to build a relationship with a woman he likes, and deal with the loss of his college job. I like the self-depreciating humor in the book and that the stories are about Connor and happen to be mysteries and thrillers. They have depth and warmth, and are not just shallow mystery or adventure books with cardboard people who you don't believe have a life, and who you can't care about.
The writing is clear, and the descriptions are orderly so you know what is going on. The story flows and while the ending is a bit too good to be true, I am happy with it. It also shows the painful growth Connor has gone through, and points to a change for the future, so the stories are not recycled.
I have only two disappointments with this book.
1. I couldn't make it last longer. 2. It takes Donohue two years to write/publish.
Lets hope the next one is in process, but it will be hard to wait for 2010.(less)
**spoiler alert** I found this book to be both wonderful, heartwarming and inspiring, and at times confusing, boring and evasive.
I think the job that...more**spoiler alert** I found this book to be both wonderful, heartwarming and inspiring, and at times confusing, boring and evasive.
I think the job that Mortenson is doing is fabulous and the only real way to build a long lasting peace and win the war on terror. The book often conveyed the majesty of one person's vision and determination to help and the ability to change and save lives,
The book showed Muslims to be real people who are not all filled with hate or terrorist ideas and plans. Seeing their suffering and family connections may do as much good as the fund raising and the school building, if it helps people in the US see them as human beings and not the evil enemy.
The book at other times was confusing, because although Mortenson is listed as the writer, he is often quoted in the book, and referred to by his name. It seems the book was really written by David Oliver Relin, and it makes the personal pronouns that occasionally appear unclear as to who is actually writing/thinking/speaking.
On top of the confusion over who is speaking the book has time jumps, so one minute its 1993, then there is a reference to 1998 or 2001, and you are unclear when you are. It takes you out of the flow to try and determine what year you are in.
The boring part for me is the constant inclusion of the mountain climbing aspect of the book, and the endless descriptions of rocks. Just not my thing. I understand the connection, but really could have done without the details. I didn't mind the family history or his romantic relationships, it helped flesh out the person of Greg Mortenson on the page.
Unfortunately the book went overboard on the wonders of Mortenson, and made him seem perfect, as though he walked on water. I found the Introduction annoying, it almost put me off reading the rest of the book. I don't want to read over the top declarations of how wonderful someone is, I want to read the details and make the decision myself.
On top of that, the writer never really went into any negative aspects of his personality or actions. He only hinted at trouble in paradise. Not that I want a hatchet job, or dirty linen, but the book should be balanced.
He talks about the friends and admirers who agreed to be on his Foundation Board, the widow of the big donor, and a medical-mountain climbing friend. Towards the end of the book, and years later, they are referred to as ex-Board members, with no explanation.
We hear about vague demands/requests from his Board to change how he operates. We hear about him disappearing into his basement and refusing to answer calls, emails, letters, yet we get no details of these problems. We see him in action, making the decisions and calling home to get Board approval, but its obvious they are only expected to rubber stamp his actions.
He seems to use the capital of the Foundation without any thought of fund raising to sustain the projects already in operation. He has no thoughts for planning for a future without him (retirement, illness, death), to keep the Foundation going, and no attempt to find and use the skills of others to branch out.
Finally the idea of education is wonderful, but I wonder about the focus on 'schools' ? Is that a foreign cultural imposition ? Surely they could have built a dwelling like the rest of the village used, and started educating much sooner, and for less money. If less is spent on the building, more can be spent on teachers and materials.
Throughout the book nothing was really said about the curriculum, or who the teachers were, and who picked both.
I had questions that the book raised, but didn't answer. Even with its problems, the book is a great read and a decent representation of one man's attempt to make a difference.(less)
**spoiler alert** An occasionally interesting, yet strangely unsatisfying read.
The setting is in Eastern Tibet, which has taken on more of China's att...more**spoiler alert** An occasionally interesting, yet strangely unsatisfying read.
The setting is in Eastern Tibet, which has taken on more of China's attributes than the rest of Tibet. It starts just before the last Emperor is deposed.
The POV character is the second son, considered an idiot, of one of the Tibetan Chieftains. His birth circumstances guaranteed that he would be an idiot from birth, to those around him. They treat him like one , so he behaves like one. It gives him an advantage in that he can do or say anything in his highly regimented society and get away with it. But he is not considered worth listening to, or worthy of any specific task.
He isn't a bad character, but it gets tiring to follow him around. The story is slice of life, or what I call fly on the wall. You watch what goes on, there is no specific story or event. I enjoy this style if the events and setting are interesting enough. I didn't find that to be the case in this book. There were times when the characters or the settings were interesting, but the events never were (standard life stuff). Sometimes it was fun to see the 'idiot' come out on top or best those who thought they were smarter than he was. But the book was over 400 pages, and that was too long, not to have an actual story or purpose.
It was interesting to see the history of the region unfold with the coming of modernity. The story ends with the triumph of the Red Chinese and their penetration into Eastern Tibet.
The writing isn't bad, being a translation. At times it seems that they are trying to pass on the rustic manner of speaking. I found the story flowed well, it just didn't grab me with the content.
It is supposed to be the first in a trilogy, though I don't think any more have been published. If more are published, I won't be reading them.
It also should be noted that the person who wrote the book is an ethnic Tibetan, who lives in China. You can't be sure that this isn't positive propaganda, approved by the government to show the decadent pre-revolution lifestyle(less)