**spoiler alert** An occasionally interesting, yet strangely unsatisfying read.
The setting is in Eastern Tibet, which has taken on more of China's att**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...more
**spoiler alert** A very slow first effort. The story is set in 1095 Constantinople during the reign of the Emperor Alexios. The POV of the story is a**spoiler alert** A very slow first effort. The story is set in 1095 Constantinople during the reign of the Emperor Alexios. The POV of the story is a man known for his brains, Demetrios Askiates. He is called to the palace to join the search for the man who tried to kill the Emperor in the street, with an exotic weapon from the West. They also are looking for the powerful people who set the plan in motion. So its an historical mystery.
While the intrigue is going on in the city, there first crusade has arrived outside the city walls. Barbarians from the West, who are ostensibly there to kill Turks and free the Holy City of Jerusalem. In actuality they are looking to loot, rape, plunder, and carve out land for themselves. Those in the city know this, and must play a subtle game with the outsiders.
The writing is good, and the characters are done well. Its the story that is very slow. There is lot of time spent with the POV going back and forth with very little story movement. The setting is well done, and not too overwhelming with description. If the story was tighter and shorter it would be a very good page turner. As it is, it is one of those books that you just want to end....more
**spoiler alert** One of my book groups is reading In the Time of the Butterflies. Someone on LibraryThing recommended this book as a companion read b**spoiler alert** One of my book groups is reading In the Time of the Butterflies. Someone on LibraryThing recommended this book as a companion read because it also deals with the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. The story is set in 1961, just before Trujillo was as assassinated.
This is a good book that really gives a sense of the scope, damage and horror of living under a dictatorship. It is also unfortunately a tough read. Some of it may be due to the fact that it is a translation, but some is due to structural problems with the story, and perhaps the approach the author took to the material.
The author, while writing fiction, also seems to want to write a history of the time. The 2 impulses often clash, when the story becomes wooden and is overwhelmed by the complete-ist requirements of history. In one thread in particular you end up with about 1/4 page of names of people who were at a meeting, but none of them are characters or play a part in the fictional story.
Another issue for non-Spanish speakers, and those not familiar with the culture is the use of full names, including the second last name. They often seem to go on forever, and make it hard to keep the characters straight.
The book is divided into 3 threads, to tell different aspects of the event, its aftermath and the way it impacted the lives of many people. Vargas tries to show how everybody was touched by the filth : those who were damaged/killed/maimed, their friends, their relatives, those who had to keep silent in the face of such monstrosity, and those who had to actively collaborate to keep them and their families alive.
The first thread is set in the modern day and is of a middle aged woman, Urania, who has been away from the DR and estranged from her family for 35 years. She is the daughter of one of Trujillo's closest advisers. Her father betrayed her when she was 14, and she has never completely recovered. He meanwhile, survived Trujillo, and the aftermath of the assassination, only to succumb to a stroke that left him a prisoner in his frozen and uncommunicative body.
Urania fills the part of the damaged survivor, and she is able to look back and speak about life in the past. She is able to contrast her early innocence and naivete about the truth of the dictatorship, and then after her event, she speaks about the ability to see the lies and the corrosive action of the fear, the collaboration, and the violence.
Unfortunately she is not done well as a real person, or an interesting character. We never really learn what motivates her, and her ending seems artificial. She never becomes more than a cardboard avatar.
The best thread is the one that belongs to Trujillo. We get to see what motivates him, and how he views his actions. Of course this is not based in truth, but it is done so well that it is totally believable. It is also completely scary to see how easy it is to rationalize and to ignore the harm one does. He is not some evil mindless cartoon monster, but a real person who chooses to be evil, and lie to himself about his actions.
The weakest thread is the one that seems to hold everyone else. It starts out with four of the assassins, but after the event, it seems to belong to any and all. It is the weakest in terms of story coherence. We meet four men and read about them and their lives and families, and then they are either gone or become only occasional entries. Other characters take their place, and we also learn about their lives and families, but its like a revolving door. Very interesting, but hard to keep track of who is who, what they do, and what their position is regarding Trujillo.
After the assassination the story occasionally has the killers, but focuses more on the Trujillistas left and their attempts to keep things calm to prevent a US invasion, and to gain power, and crush their opponents.
It is also through this thread that you get a sense of the breadth and depth of the evil of regime. Almost everyone has had a run in the Trujillo, and/or the secret police. Many have lost friends and family members, and live in fear of the same thing happening to them. It serves the purpose of the history approach to the book, at the expense of the story element.
Even with all its issues, it is still an amazing read, and worth the effort. ...more
**spoiler alert** I read this book for a RL book group. It is the second book I had read about the Dominican Republic and the Trujillo dictatorship.
Th**spoiler alert** I read this book for a RL book group. It is the second book I had read about the Dominican Republic and the Trujillo dictatorship.
This book is much more personal and smaller in scope than the first book The Feast of the Goat. It concentrates on one family, the Mirabals. They have 4 daughters and through their beliefs, and the acquaintances they make, some of whom they marry, they end up in opposition to the regime.
These were real people, and they were murdered by the regime. They became heroes and legends, the author tries to tell the story focusing on their humanity and every day lives rather than their status as martyrs. This is a work of fiction, but is done so well, that the story seems real and plausible.
They were active towards the end of the dictatorship, when it was most vulnerable. They caught the fancy of the country and were more dangerous as symbols than perhaps as actual actors. In this book because the focus is almost completely on the family, its hard to tell what their impact on the larger society was. Reading The Feast of the Goat with its wider perspective, and which talks about the Mirabal sisters, makes it clearer why they were killed.
The writing is smooth, and it flows well. The characters are interesting, and people you care about. Very good, although wrenching read. ...more