How can I possibly describe a 947-page book in the space of a brief review? I guess I could start by saying that my interest was maintained all the waHow can I possibly describe a 947-page book in the space of a brief review? I guess I could start by saying that my interest was maintained all the way through, which is saying a lot. This book didn't change my life or anything, but it was a great read and a great story and I had absolutely no problem with the length. Although a few of the subplots and interludes were arguably less necessary, they were no less engaging.
"Sacred Games" explores the lives of two Mumbai men, a police officer named Sartaj Singh and a gang leader named Ganesh Gaitonde. Both Sartaj and Ganesh are complex characters vividly executed, and I enjoyed reading about their lives' twists and turns -- Ganesh's rise to power in the underworld and subsequent difficulties; Sartaj's challenges as a relatively honest police officer in a world riddled with corruption. I especially loved reading about the characters' love for their native Mumbai, which was vividly and empathically evoked. Despite the fact that Mumbai is not high up on my list of places to visit these days, Chandra made the characters' deep affection for the city palpable and relatable.
Another recommendation on loan from Margueya -- her book club is reading this one.
I thought this was a great book. Its deceptively simple style and imAnother recommendation on loan from Margueya -- her book club is reading this one.
I thought this was a great book. Its deceptively simple style and immediate accessibility belies a deep, provocative story. I loved the subtlety, and the complex look at human relationships. This would be a great choice for a book club! There's a great deal to discuss. Not for the fainthearted, though -- I also found the book to be terribly sad....more
Wow -- I couldn't put this down. Which is a funny thing to say, because it wasn't a pageturner in the classic sense; not plot-driven or particularly sWow -- I couldn't put this down. Which is a funny thing to say, because it wasn't a pageturner in the classic sense; not plot-driven or particularly suspenseful. I just found the heroine and her story very engaging. I also liked the way many of the characters managed to be both jerky and sympathetic -- complex, in other words, something that's missing from many books! Finally, I think it was sweetly nostalgic for me to read about a heroine growing up in the 80s, whose developmental clock pretty much mirrored mine. I appreciated the references to friendship pins, Keds, Ocean Pacific sweatshirts, etc. -- Moriarty really evoked that time period for me without it being overkill. I had a similar experience when I read "The Song Reader" by Lisa Tucker, which I also enjoyed, although I think this was a richer book. Anyway, I can't really name a flaw in this book -- it was enjoyable and interesting, well-written, characters you could see and feel, etc. Highly recommended....more
I loved this. It had so many elements of a great novel -- romance, mystery, richly drawn characters, humor, a story within a story (with both plots eqI loved this. It had so many elements of a great novel -- romance, mystery, richly drawn characters, humor, a story within a story (with both plots equally enjoyable and dovetailing in interesting ways), and great writing -- even in translation. Someone compared it to "History of Love." I sort of see the comparison, but I think I would compare it more to "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield. Anyway, I highly recommend it....more
Oh, hell. I'm just going to go ahead and give this five stars, at the risk of overselling it. It's the best book I've read in a long while.
I usually dOh, hell. I'm just going to go ahead and give this five stars, at the risk of overselling it. It's the best book I've read in a long while.
I usually dislike the whole multiple narrative thing. I always thought it was because multiple narratives give me ADD, that just as I'm getting hooked on one story I get interrupted and have to start all over, and that I resent what seems like authorial laziness in finding creative ways to market a book of short stories as a novel. But this book made me realize what's really behind my usual dislike for multiple narratives. They're uneven. Almost always. Some stories within the book might be great but others drag, causing me to feel even more annoyed at having to constantly make abrupt shifts and get to know new characters, a new storyline, new rhythms.
Cloud Atlas taught me this because here, the narratives weren't uneven. They actually weren't. I found myself wholly absorbed in each one, for all their radically different styles (versatility, thy name is David Mitchell). And when each one ended, I found myself saying damn, why did it have to be over, why do I have to start another one, except then I found myself saying it again at the end of the next one, and the next one, and the next one. (Okay, that's not quite true. I did have issues with two of the narratives. But not major issues, and not enough to detract significantly from my overall enjoyment.)
But beyond the fact that the narratives were all engaging, the way they fit together and the overall structure of the book was absolutely brilliant. Mitchell was right to write his book this way, with multiple narratives. It was deliberate, not lazy. He worked hard to write this book precisely this way because he wanted to convey something (or maybe many things) and this style and structure was a vehicle.
Although I'm not exactly sure what Mitchell's message was (I never quite got the significance of the birthmark), there was certainly a lot to think about. Interesting characters, moral ambiguity, deep philosophical questions, and homage to both classic and popular literature (I'm pretty sure the middle narrative was meant to evoke The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a different narrative was highly reminiscent of The Graduate, and other references I'm probably not sufficiently literate to get).
I'm pretty curious about the movie now, but I fear it will not live up to the experience of reading this incredibly original and worthwhile book....more
"The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" explores the tragedy of Lia Lee, a Hmong child with epilepsy who eventually suffered severe brain damage, f"The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" explores the tragedy of Lia Lee, a Hmong child with epilepsy who eventually suffered severe brain damage, from a variety of perspectives. One perspective is that of her family, who believed that epilepsy had a spiritual rather than a medical explanation, and who had both practical difficulty (as illiterate, non-English speaking immigrants to the U.S.) and general reluctance to comply with Lia's complicated medical regimen. Another perspective is that of her doctors, who were extremely frustrated at all the barriers in dealing with this family and felt understandably determined to treat Lia according to the best standards of medicine. Then you have the people in between -- the sympathetic and aggressively advocating social worker (resented by the doctors) who came from the American point of view but aligned with the family; Lia's temporary foster family who ended up forming an apparently close relationship with her birth family; and the author herself, who unpacked this story with all its layers and recognized the profound questions it elicited, such as:
What’s preferable from a doctor’s point of view – a lower standard of care with a higher probability of compliance from the family, or a higher standard of care with a lower probability of compliance from the family?
When a child is involved, who's the boss -- the doctor, or the parents?
Why are we Americans so intolerant of those who do not wish to assimilate into our culture? And do we owe them the same rights/privileges as those who adopt American culture?
How could the Lees be perceived so radically differently by the doctors and nurses who worked with them vs. the more sympathetic social worker and journalist?
If the doctor's goal is to save the body and the family's goal is to save the immortal soul, who should win that conflict?
This book was amazing, on so many levels.
The writing was excellent, and so was the organization. I find that non-fiction books often err on the side of being either informative but too dry, or engaging but also too sensationalist/one-sided. This book was neither. The story was gripping, and so was the background (and Fadiman did a great job of interspersing the two so as to build tension, and so that neither aspect of the book ever got boring). Fadiman has clearly done her research, and I felt like I learned a great deal from the book but never felt like I was reading a textbook.
Best of all, this is one of the rare books I've read that felt truly balanced and three-dimensional. Fadiman was sympathetic to the Hmong and their viewpoint without romaticizing or idealizing them. She described some unfair racist reactions to the Hmong, but she also acknowledged the valid resentment felt by people whose taxes were supporting their welfare-receiving huge families. Fadiman also portrayed the doctors as motivated overall by good intentions. She acknowledged factors such as cultural blindness and the arrogance of the profession, but did not imply that the doctors were coldhearted, insensitive automatons -- quite the contrary.
Highly recommended for anyone who wants an engaging and thought-provoking read....more
Great fiction offers you a gripping plot, memorable characters, and complex relationships. Great non-fiction expands your mind, educating you with newGreat fiction offers you a gripping plot, memorable characters, and complex relationships. Great non-fiction expands your mind, educating you with new information and inspiring you to think. This book, technically non-fiction, was the best of both worlds.
This book was a family saga set in a fascinating historical context. Each of the three women in the book is a microcosm of surrounding events in China at the time. The author's grandmother, becoming a concubine to a warlord as a teenager and undergoing all sorts of difficulties before finally finding love and relative security against the odds. Her only daughter, the author's mother, a pioneer of communism struggling with fierce dedication to the party which comes at a high price. The author herself, growing up during the cultural revolution and having to overcome the ingrained psychological controls implanted by the cult of Mao in order to think independently.
These women are strong and courageous and great to read about, but I agree with another reviewer who said that the most interesting character was the author's father. A rare idealist strong in his beliefs, his willingness to sacrifice on his family's behalf infuriates you at first but you come to deeply admire him. This reviewer also put it well when she said that China itself was a character in this book. In fiction, making a place into a character is something that usually doesn't work for me. Here, it did -- maybe because it was non-fiction, and the book was vastly informative beyond telling the story of the family itself. I've read fiction and memoir from the Cultural Revolution ("Waiting," "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress," "Red Azalea") but I felt that this book helped me understand the phenomenon, and what it was like to live through it, in a way that the other three books did not.
The only reason I hesitated about the fifth star was that the book was very long and perhaps a little over-detailed at times. I think I would have had more patience for this, though, if my life were not currently so busy so that's not something I'll hold against the book....more
Okay, everyone, here goes -- I am writing an experimental Off Topic Review. There's been a lot of discussion about this on goodreads lately -- do we lOkay, everyone, here goes -- I am writing an experimental Off Topic Review. There's been a lot of discussion about this on goodreads lately -- do we love off-topic reviews, or do we flag them? Who are we writing our reviews for, and does that affect the way we write? (And am I simply trying to garner votes by writing in this new way? Hmmm...) My sense is that claiming to write for yourself and no one else makes you cool, as does writing off topic -- who needs those nerdy summaries anyway, when you can simply find them on the book's page? We're not in third grade any more, people!
So in a departure from my usual anal tell-them-about-the-book-then-share-your-opinion format, I will include a eulogy as part of my review. My great-uncle recently passed away at the age of 93. I didn't know him very well, but he was a wonderful man in a lot of ways. He never married or had kids; he accomplished an awful lot (a successful engineer, he won a medal from Eisenhower for his work on the St. Lawrence bridge) and always lived life to the fullest -- traveling all over the world and having many fascinating adventures, keeping his mind sharp and alert with crossword puzzles, Chess, Sudoku, and e-mail until the very end of his life. My great-uncle also spent much of World War II as an inmate in a Japanese POW camp.
Uncle Ben never spoke about his experiences in the camp, and between the generation gap and the fact that I didn't see him much, I never had the opportunity to ask (I suspect asking would have been a wrong move in any case). I do remember, though, feeling a bit left out in a way (I'm ashamed to admit this -- I know it sounds awful) as a member of a Jewish family of European origin with little Holocaust consciousness. Most of the relatives I knew growing up either arrived in America before World War II or spent the war years in China (that's another story). I once shared this with my mother, who sharply noted that Uncle Ben had spent the war in a Japanese POW camp and suffered at least as badly, and possibly worse, compared with those who experienced the Holocaust. It was all kind of abstract to me, as I was a great deal more exposed to Holocaust narratives than to those of Japanese POWs.
Until now. Laura Hillenbrand has written a gripping book about Louis Zamperini, vividly detailing his experiences at the hands of his Japanese captors.
But before we get to that -- the book opens with engaging stories of Louis's Italian-American childhood and promising career as an Olympian runner. I found the character and experiences of Louis Zamperini as interesting as any I've read about in fiction.
Louis's running career was put on hold when he was drafted in WWII and served in the air force, a slower part of the book for me as it was bogged down with copious detail about planes and an early crash which seemed largely irrelevant. The book picked up, though, when Zamperini ended up on a life raft in the middle of the Pacific with two others from his second crashed plane, drifting for 47 days with no food or water. In a harrowing survival story reminiscent of In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (another example of great narrative non-fiction, incidentally), Louis shows incredible ingenuity and courage when it comes to finding food in the middle of the ocean with no tools and surviving shark attacks, a Japanese bombing, and starvation and dehydration for an unbelievable length of time. That story alone would be worth a book but in fact, Louis's troubles actually began once his raft ended up on an island and he was captured by the Japanese.
I was just blown away by the cruelty shown to Louis and other POWs in the camps. I won't go into detail here (enough summarizing, right?). Let me just say that it certainly did rival the various Holocaust narratives I've heard and read. The book attempts to be evenhanded and to place the cruelty in a cultural context. I still found it difficult to fathom. And I couldn't help taking it personally as I thought of my great-uncle and all the stories he must have had and never shared. While I can't assume that Uncle Ben's experiences necessarily mirrored those of Zamperini, the book seemed to suggest that Zamperini's suffering was more typical than atypical of the POW experience in Japan.
So this was an eye-opening book for me in a lot of ways, but that wasn't the only reason I'm giving it five stars. Meticulously researched, beautifully written, usually interesting and often gripping, I believe this book deserves all the accolades it's been receiving....more
Wow -- it's been a while since I didn't want a book to end. This book worked on more than one level -- as a gripping mystery, as a psychological thrilWow -- it's been a while since I didn't want a book to end. This book worked on more than one level -- as a gripping mystery, as a psychological thriller, as a study of human relationships, and more.
Cassie Maddox, a police officer traumatized by her last undercover assignment, reluctantly agrees to go undercover yet again when the murder victim in question turns out to be a woman who could be Cassie's double. Not only did this woman resemble Cassie physically but she has been using the exact fake identity adopted by Cassie for her last undercover case -- Lexie Madison. "Lexie" had been posing as a graduate student in English and living with a tightly knit group of fellow students. In an effort to discover Lexie's murderer, Cassie begins posing as Lexie, pretending to Lexie's housemates that Lexie actually survived her stabbing and is now returning to her normal life.
Is it possible to adopt someone's identity and pose as that person to the people who knew her best? There were some deliciously tense moments, as you can imagine, when it wasn't clear whether Cassie would pull it off. This added to the drama of the mystery's revelation layer by layer. But more interesting than the mystery itself, and even more interesting than Cassie's adventures fooling Lexie's housemates, was the enmeshed relationship among the housemates and Cassie's pull to become a part of the group despite her best efforts to maintain professional distance. Tana French did a wonderful job of exploring the dynamics of a group of close friends clinging together out of insecurity and creating a seemingly utopian existence, and how it can suddenly all fall apart.
Even if you don't consider yourself a mystery fan, I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates a multi-layered story which asks interesting questions about human nature. ...more
I really enjoyed reading this. It was a little different from Amy Tan's usual, but it had a lot of great elements -- adventure, humor, depth, etc. I hI really enjoyed reading this. It was a little different from Amy Tan's usual, but it had a lot of great elements -- adventure, humor, depth, etc. I highly recommend it....more
No book is perfect, but this one came close for me. I loved Cassandra, the protagonist -- a genuinely funny and sharp seventeen-year-old girl who is tNo book is perfect, but this one came close for me. I loved Cassandra, the protagonist -- a genuinely funny and sharp seventeen-year-old girl who is the quintessential chick lit heroine in many ways, setting the tone for that cliche while simultaneously rising above it. Cassandra and her impoverished family, oddly enough, inhabit a large castle originally rented with the earnings from her father's great, and thus far unrepeated, writing success. Now that her father appears to be suffering endless writing block, the family is nearly starving.
Cassandra's mother is dead, and her father has remarried. Cassandra's stepmother, Topaz, is another interesting and three-dimensional character -- an 29-year-old artist's model who seems flaky in many ways but is deeply devoted to her husband and step-children. Rose, Cassandra's beautiful 20-year-old sister, despises their poverty and dreams of a way out, while Cassandra and her younger brother Thomas are more accepting of the situation. The last member of the household, Stephen, is a young man who works for his room and board (such as it is) and suffers deep and unrequited passion for Cassandra.
Enter the insanely wealthy Cotton family from America, who has just inherited the estate on which Cassandra's family's castle is situated. The Cottons have two eligible sons, and the intrigue begins. Lest you think the plot is predictable, though, be forewarned -- it isn't.
If I wanted to nitpick, I could. I did occasionally have to suspend my disbelief in certain minor places. But I don't care. Those places were few and far between, and the overall story and characters were so great to read about that it didn't matter. This book managed to be light and funny, and profound and wise at the same time -- how often does that happen? The situations were surprisingly complex, as were the characters, but it never felt ponderous or slow. I wish there were more books like this....more
I’m the first to say it. The Holocaust genre is way oversaturated. When I read “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” I was filled with rage that this wasI’m the first to say it. The Holocaust genre is way oversaturated. When I read “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” I was filled with rage that this was what it had come to – a cheap, gimmicky, and frankly stupid book written simply to capitalize on the marketability of the Holocaust. But every now and then, I do end up reading a Holocaust-related book that has something interesting and different about it and is worth reading even though it’s Holocaust lit. “The Book Thief.” “Those Who Save Us.” And now, this one which has become my recent favorite – “Not Me.”
“Not Me,” aside from enjoyable writing and deft characterization, has a gripping premise. Michael Rosenheim is a stand-up comedian who performs under the name Mickey Rose. Like many comics, his personal life is unhappy and desolate – he’s divorced from his ex-wife whom he still loves, has difficulty staying connected with his child, has lost his mother and sister, and his father is now dying of Alzheimer’s. Michael is also conflicted about his Jewish identity – it makes great comic fodder but not much else, and he resents the excess reminders of his Judaism that fill his father’s apartment – knickknacks and honors from a wide array of Jewish organizations. His father, Heschel Rosenheim, is considered one of the all-time great Jews, a Holocaust survivor who has always been unusually devoted and generous with his time when it came to Jewish causes, and Michael just doesn’t get it.
In one of his increasingly sporadic lucid moments, Michael’s Alzheimer’s-ridden father hands him a box of 24 journals he apparently wrote, although it’s the first Michael is hearing of it and it’s not even clear where the journals materialized from at this time. When Michael reluctantly decides to read them, he is shocked to find a third-person story in his father’s handwriting written about someone with his father’s name who was in fact in the camps, but as an SS officer named Heinrich Mueller. Fearing the oncoming liberation, Heinrich Mueller decided to starve himself for three weeks, tattoo a number onto his arm, and steal the uniform and identity of a dead concentration camp victim – Heshel Rosenheim – so as to avoid getting caught on the wrong side by the liberators. In a sequence of events that is almost comic in its irony, this former SS officer then follows a very Jewish trajectory – DP Camp and then Palestine, where he becomes a kibbutz leader (in a passage which cracked me up, this German decides to whisk those disorganized Jews into shape) and later a freedom fighter for the emerging state of Israel. Although Mueller/Rosenheim secretly still dislikes Jews and plots ways to join the Arab side, he ends up digging himself deeper and deeper and escape seems impossible as he becomes further entrenched in his new identity.
But is this man Michael’s father? It’s hard to tell, because every time Michael tries to confront his father on this, his father slips into an Alzheimer’s-induced fugue. The most Michael’s father will say about the Heinrich Mueller/Heschel Rosenheim of the journals is, “That was not me,” which could mean any number of things – that the journals are fiction, that Michael’s father insists on denying their truth despite his having documented it in this form, or that he is simply suffering Alzheimer’s and no longer remembers. Naturally, Michael becomes increasingly anxious to learn his father’s true identity, and as a reader, I felt swept up in this quest myself. More murky secrets about Michael’s past and family gradually come to consciousness, and the complexity increases. Equally gripping, though, was the story taking place in Michael’s father’s journals of an SS officer posing as a Palmach member, terrified of being recognized by survivors of his camp, constantly wavering about whether to go over to the Arab side even as he leads his groups in the War of Independence.
The ending is powerful, a bit speculative but not disappointingly so. Overall, my reservations re. Holocaust lit. notwithstanding, I found this book moving and very thought-provoking, and I highly recommend it. ...more
I blew through this fascinating audiobook, practically manufacturing housework to do so that I'd have an excuse to plug myself in (okay, that's a bitI blew through this fascinating audiobook, practically manufacturing housework to do so that I'd have an excuse to plug myself in (okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration; there was plenty of housework to do without my having to manufacture any). I would recommend this book to just about anyone seeking a great read -- even if you're usually more of a fiction person, this non-fiction book offers plenty of interesting characters and storylines as well as being informative and provocative in the way of non-fiction.
Did you know that much of medical research (and the benefits we derive every day, including many routine vaccines and medications we take for granted) is dependent on a culture of human cells that continue to live and reproduce even after their original owner died in 1951? Well, I didn't. And I wouldn't have thought that this factoid would interest me particularly, not being much of a science person myself. But somehow, Rebecca Skloot was able to make the dynamics surrounding these cells not only comprehensible to me but intriguing (no small feat).
Even more intriguing, though, was the story of the late human being behind these cells, Henrietta Lacks, who never knew that her cells had been taken for research. Henrietta's surviving children, tragically losing their mother at a young age to cervical cancer and raised in a poor and abusive environment, only learned about this later in life and never saw a penny of the proceeds.
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" contains several stories. There is the story of Henrietta, a poor young African American woman with incurable cervical cancer, and of her children struggling to grow up without her after her early death. There is the story of the doctor who decided to slice off pieces of her tumor just prior to her death without asking or even informing her, who then discovered that these cancerous cells were immortal. There is the story of the cells, which began to be mass-produced and distributed to researchers for a wide variety of interesting and often ground-breaking experiments. And there is the story of Rebecca Skloot, a journalist who was persistent and dogged in her efforts to win Henrietta's family's reluctant trust (after they had been duped by others attempting to capitalize on Henrietta) so that she could learn and tell their story.
Henrietta's adult children in this book are colorful characters with their own stories who overcame some difficult situations, some more successfully than others. We also meet different doctors and researchers -- while some prove to be profiteers, others are truly dedicated to science for its own sake. The doctor who originally took Henrietta's tumor for research without her knowledge fell into the latter category, which is part of what makes this a three-dimensional book rather than a simplistic polemic. A product of his times, this 1950s doctor was less sensitive to the medical and research ethics which have since received more attention, particularly when it came to a poor African-American woman.
Should you care if someone uses your body tissues for medical research without your consent? Before I began reading this book, my thought was, why the heck would I care? Assuming that these tissues need to be removed in any case, why not use them to do some good for science and for mankind? But Rebecca offers some anecdotes which complicate this question, and the irony running throughout the book is that Henrietta's descendants cannot afford decent medical care, even as the entire medical profession benefits from Henrietta's unwittingly donated cells.
Even if you think you're not a science person, even if you think you're not a non-fiction person, I would recommend checking this book out....more