This book succinctly summarizes the plight of Americas' indigenous people. I found myself reading the history feeling as though I was pushed off a cli...moreThis book succinctly summarizes the plight of Americas' indigenous people. I found myself reading the history feeling as though I was pushed off a cliff. This sustained free-fall just never seemed to get better. This is not a 'feelgood' book; it echos themes of betrayal, bigotry and avarice as Native Americans steadily were broken down and extinguished and their way of life was encroached upon and displaced by a budding nation's fantasy quest to fulfill its Euro-centric ideology of Manifest Destiny to justify its explosive westward expansion toward the Pacific coast.
The book is laid out as a chronicle and references interesting events in a time line which gives a sense of contextual reality as the tragic history which, if it were not true, would read like some fantastic tale of genocide. Unfortunately, the reality is weighted with historical evidence and this book serves as a telling synopsis of how Human Beings are capable of destroying entire cultures when greed and ambition are served by religious and social conventions bent to serve selfish gains.
My emotions raged from surprise to rage and, hopelessness to profound despair. Dee Brown, the librarian-turned-author has delivered a timeless piece of work which challenges any thinking person to question how history is being taught.
The book touches me on so many levels - things I can neither divulge in this writing and things I cannot even begin to explain. Nonetheless, it forces me to reckon with who I am as a member of Humanity and it compels me to carry a deeper understanding for what it means to be alive.
My ethnicity is that of a 'mestizo' (Sp) - mixed blood person's - heritage. I carry the mongrel mix of my European and middle eastern roots and my DNA also belies the heritage of America's native people. Consequently, the angst I feel is one which tugs at bittersweet sense of right and wrong, of destiny and direction; my ancestors walked this earth both as conquerors and as conquered.
What the book does for me is it re-acquaints me with how the world is never simply black and white. My sense of social justice and moreover the deep understanding that every Human Being has an intrinsic value are clouded with shades of gray. What disturbs me most however is how wholesale destruction of a people can be carried out by what I can only describe as God-fearing, decent Human Beings driven by wanton, self-serving interests. Even more appalling is just how far we, as a species are willing to go in order to justify avarice.
I highly recommend this book - not because of the repulsiveness of violence - but, because it serves as a touchstone for our collective consciousness. In a world where atrocities seem the rule rather than an exception to the Human experience, I believe this book serves our better interests because it acts as a mirror upon which we can reflect. Its sharp focus serves to dull the lines of distinction that we love to invoke in our need to set ourselves apart from our fellow Human Beings.
Such reflection leads to contemplation and cognition which, far and away, is far better than rationalization of the variety where we can diminish the value of anyone who happens to be different. The truest danger we all are at risk for is mistakenly believing that our differences are so great that the only explanation which will suffice is to deem one another inferior and thus not worthy of the full measure of respect that we all deserve - simply because we are members of the Human species.
One thread that I found particularly fascinating was the level of eloquence all of the chiefs quoted in their communication. If anything, it sheds light on a highly intelligent, cultured and elegant in their dialogue - quite different from the invocations of noble savages of James Fenimore Cooper or the bigoted rants of 'civilized' European descendants and Hollywood archetypes so prevalent in the movies of my childhood. These people weren't 'John Wayne' Indians.
Do yourself a favor and read what they had to say. Their words are brilliant and thoughtful. (less)
I read this book 35 years ago for the first time when I was fifteen years old. It remains one of my all time favorites. After...moreQue Viva Snuffy Ledoux!
I read this book 35 years ago for the first time when I was fifteen years old. It remains one of my all time favorites. After re-reading - because one of my friends told me I reminded him of Amarante Cordova - and because I always considered myself to be more of a Jose Mondragon - the themes remain contemporary. They remind me why I consider this timeless piece of literature to be such a great demonstration of artistry and craftsmanship.
Milagro Beanfield War is an enchanting story, told by a man who has a deep and abiding respect for the people he wrote about. His descriptions of the colorful characters and the beautiful landscapes reveal a man who is faithful to describing northern New Mexico Latino culture with clarity and sensitivity to all their quirky nuances.
Nichols reminds me why I love the northern part of the state so much. The rugged terrain is as breath-taking beautiful as its hard-scrabble inhabitants. I am convinced their vibrant culture and world view has been shaped by the land in which they live. Their ingenuity and tenacity are not as caricatured as you might be given to conclude according to Nichols' descriptions. Their bravado, sense of pride, chutzpah are not an exaggeration at all. Moreover, extraordinary things do happen up there and what is even more unusual is that is is not seen as anything out of the ordinary at all. Nichols does such a fantastic job of describing the terrain that he reminds me why I love Northern New Mexico - Taos in particular - so much.
Plainly put, this story is entertaining, comical and it sheds light on yet another group of Americans whose peculiarities spice up an already delicious story.
I felt a connection to all of the characters. However, if pressed to choose one, I believe my favorite would be the immortal Amarante Cordova who buys bullets for his antique .45 with food stamps.
Aside from Pacheco's huge, white pet pig that continually escapes and wreaks havoc in Milagro, the cast of characters include;
Joe Mondragon, the sawed-off banty rooster. The protagonist who unwittingly starts the war when he decides to irrigate his little bean field - of course the symbolism should not be wasted here as beans cause gas and Joe's little field caused a big stink.
Bernabe Montoya, the tired though politically astute sheriff whose comic-tragic life is measured by making mountains out of mole hills and mole hills out of mountains,
Seferino Pacheco, the illiterate old man who can nonchalantly critique Steinbeck, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Juan Ramon Jimenez, Platero, Asturias, Garcia Lorca and Pablo Neruda but spends the lions' share of his time haplessly chasing down his wayward, errant pet pig,
Onofre Martinez, the one armed enigma who lost his arm to a fleet of butterflies and whose claim to shame is marked by having a son become a state police officer,
Charlie Bloom, the Harvard Lawyer cum honorary Chicano and publisher of a little news paper called 'The Voice of the People,'
A host of bad guys led by the evil, Ladd Devine III, an equally pugnacious, little white man whose size belies his ambitions, and
the women of Milagro who range from a pebble-tossing granny to loyal, devoted and equally nutty, delightfully powerful women.
These characters represent the tapestry of Milagros' comedic bravado and cloaked angst with its temperaments and dispositions.
I have read that some people do not like Nichols' depiction of the dominant culture and actually take exception to what has been described as the 'white man's burden.' Such detractors are really missing the point because the story is about a nostalgic look at a culture and way of life that is quickly waning. As a case in point, Onofre Martinez articulates the point quite eloquently (p 150)when someone makes an off handed comment about gringos;
"'Wait a minute!' Onofre Martinez stammered excitedly, emotionally placing his hand on Ray Gusdorf's shoulder, 'This is my neighbor, and he is a gringo, not even a little bit coyote [half-breed:]. But he's been in the valley as long as I remember, and I consider him to be of my people. And that white man over there told us these things about the dam and the conservancy and showed us the maps, I consider him of my people too, even though he is a lawyer, even though he speaks funny Anglo Spanish you can hardly understand. But I believe he at least tries to speak the truth,and a lawyer who does that should get a big gold medal to hang around his neck. I don't consider Nick Rael to be of my people because he works against my interests... So, I don't believe this is a brown against white question. This is a only one kind of people against another kind of people with different ideas. There are brown people and white people on both sides...People are people...The brown people and white people on our side are better people because they are on the correct side, that's all..."
While many of the antiheroes in this story happen to be Anglo and the protagonists are mostly Latinos, the story would not change if the protagonists happened to be a group of backwater whites who were facing similar circumstances. Consequently, I don't really understand why someone, anyone would get ruffled about a white author writing about bad white guys. Apparently, Lonesome Dove doesn't evoke the same sort of bristled criticisms and, for that reason, I find the attacks on John Nichols unwarranted.
John Nichols has created a masterpiece, attentively woven with its muted colors of incredulity, tempered fatalism and brilliant splashes of hope.
I sincerely hope his magnum opus is not discounted because he has the temerity to celebrate the true essence of what is unique about being an American; diversity.
Finally, If you like magical realism, this book is perfect for you.
ps: There's nothing wrong with being like Amarante Cordova - although I still consider myself more like Joe Mondragon. And, hey Tony! You are crazier that Pacheco's pig!(less)
I've always had a tentative relationship with my religion. Like many, I take comfort in established, ritualized practices. On the other hand, I have a...moreI've always had a tentative relationship with my religion. Like many, I take comfort in established, ritualized practices. On the other hand, I have a tough time with some of what I consider to be loopy mandates outlined by the Catholic Catechism.
One aspect about, A Prayer for Owen Meany definitely touched on Faith; how I reconcile the difference between knowing that G_d exists; and believing that his word is what has been faithfully communicated through the Bible.
Couple that with my mistrust for 'the government' and my love for the Constitution and I have the perfect setting for an exploration of what happens when the two mix.
Owen Meany is a Christ-like figure - the reluctant messiah who, for whatever reason - is tapped to make the supreme sacrifice; he is to die. It causes me to ponder how Jesus must have felt as he knew what was going to happen and how he dealt with that impending eventuality of his demise for a 'greater good.'
And what of altruism? How can one reconcile voluntary termination of one's very life when to do so involves an act so selfless that it means termination of life as we know it to exist in this dimension. It begs the question, is altruism really voluntary at all and moreover, does it make any sense?
What about those left behind? John Wheelright's retrospective recounts the life of his enigmatic friend and the events that precipitated his death. He is preoccupied with whether the senseless act of violence that killed Owen could have been avoided - whether the collision course was one of divine providence or merely the product of a self-directed destiny. In the process, John's story reveals the struggle between faith and reality; for John it was one of knowing the end result and looking back; for Owen, it was one of knowing the end result and moving toward it. While both took a lifetime to complete, I am not sure who suffered more in the end.
If this is a parallel story of Jesus of Nazareth and there are/were other people with whom he shared his earthly existence then, their spin on the chain of events that led to his death and how they perceived it opens a whole new story. I can easily surmise that their personal interpretations might vary and the depth of their grief drives them to revisit the 'greatest story ever told' for the rest of their lives.
There are also many symbolic parallels throughout the story as well. For instance, Owen Meany's initials might be related to the letter Omega - as in the Christ's declaration of being the 'alpha and the omega.' His relationship to 'John' - might this be a reference to the beloved apostle alluded to in the New Testament? How about the Mary Magdalene, perhaps an alliterative parallel to Hester - 'the Molester'; maybe an allusion to the Scarlet Letter's Hester Prynne and the attendant consequences for having dared to love a man she could never have. How about her ability to evoke emotion and enjoy adulation of her fans. Yet despite her rock-star appeal, she was powerless to save the man she loved from with his date with destiny?
So many other questions arise like;
1] Is it easier to bitch about my government when I really have problems with my G_d? Civil disobedience beats the shit out of apostasy right? My government can jail me however, according to Pascal's gambit regarding the existence of G_d; violating the treatises of my faith can doom me for eternity.
2] Is this why fundamentalists work so hard at setting a status quo in their ever-changing world?
3] What do you do when your messiah - whom you never realized to be your messiah - is now your messiah and he is gone? You no longer can see him in the flesh. Is this the point of embarkation for the trip we call 'faith'?
4] How about the irony involved in being killed by someone else whose practiced religion calls for your destruction - even if you are the messiah?
I think about mistrust of my government which also played a role in Owen's death, the zealots and the existence of evil.
Like John Wheelright, I am a religious outsider. The struggle with my faith, striving to make sense of the religion of my birth. I take in my countryman's sacrosanct professions of faith and come away unconvinced.
Among my fellow Christian believers, there is a sea of difference where one set of perspectives takes precedence over another. Those who currently hold sway doggedly embrace the notion of a vengeful G_d that endorses 'an eye for an eye.' By convention, these practitioners of faith invoke the notion of self reliance as their excuse for turning a blind eye to the plight of a poor. Since G_d only helps those who help themselves, poverty must be an indication that such individuals are sinners - abandoned by the creator and therefore - of no consequence. The G_d of Abraham - whose eye is on the sparrow - is unmoved at the growling stomach of starving child.
Only in America do we protect an impoverished unborn human's right to be born into a mean world where they are guaranteed denial of equal access to education, food and a decent quality of life. We abandon them to the mean streets of what so proudly we hail as the greatest country on earth only to hunt them down years later. They are perfect fodder for the alter of object lessons because we prosecute them and even execute them in far greater numbers than members of the middle and upper class. We conveniently deny along the way that offenses committed by the poor had anything to do with the crimes perpetrated by religious approbation of avarice, wholesale exclusion and pin-pointed bigotry. It does make me wonder just what a messiah might make of it all and that is another reason why Owen Meany's character moves me.
I freely admit my bias; I am a John Irving fan and this is the book that did it for me.
I know Irving thoroughly studied the work of Charles Dickens so his story-telling utilizes techniques invoking craftsmanship reminiscent of that prolific storyteller. Irving's writing skill is second to none. He delivers a thought provoking, haunting narrative that leaves me continually revisiting this story.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is a meaning-of-life book of the highest order. It doesn't give us answers. It gives us questions to ponder - something infinitely more valuable. It informs. It frustrates. It entertains. It evokes a broad range of emotions. It has the potential for commuting what seems at first blush a life so common into a glimpse of the divine. It is the story of one man's epiphany and his ongoing struggle to reconcile faith with reality. It is a book of revelation - all at once apocalyptic and painfully redemptive.
Any book that can communicate on so many different levels is a book that will stand the test of time. This is why I consider this story among the top three books penned by any living writer I have read to date.
This is only part of why I love Owen Meany and why, - like the opening line,
"I am doomed to remember a small boy with a wrecked voice..."(less)
I have never read any of Ken Follett's books but I decided to give this one a try. It is my understanding that this genre of book is not typical of th...moreI have never read any of Ken Follett's books but I decided to give this one a try. It is my understanding that this genre of book is not typical of the spy thriller writer. This is a historical novel with multiple characters and several plots.
The Pillars of the Earth is set in the early 1100's and spans around fifty years. It centers around a Cathedral constructed in the fictional town of Kingsbridge England. Some of the major characters include Phillip, Prior of the Kingsbridge Monastery, Tom Builder and his step-son Jack Sherburg who are the Master-Builders that oversee the Cathedral's construction over nearly five decades. The story is filled with intrigue, violence, ambition, religiosity, rape, pillaging and even token sex.
I liked the book however, some of the tempocentric references transferred to the twelvth century don't seem to carry over convincingly - at least for me anyway. The gratuitous sex descriptions seemed awkward, somewhat brutish and even pornographic. I suppose they weren't altogether repulsive taken as a whole - although I found the rape descriptions to be particularly disturbing.
Follett was trained as a journalist and it showed up by the way this entire book was painstakingly written. However, its end seemed anticlimactic as the author wrapped up the loose ends kind of the way he wrote about sex; big build-up, short fuse and BAM!
Considering how much detail and effort was put into developing the story and its characters, the end seemed rushed, tidy and contrived. It lacked the same continuity with the tapestry woven through out the story. I understand the book was long nearly 1000 pages. nevertheless, this epic deserved a more detailed end to finish off the body of work so meticulously put together. I found myself frustrated with the disappointingly clunky end.
Nevertheless, I did find the book intriguing enough that I made time for the book - so much so that I read it in four days. I found myself thinking about the characters during the day and eagerly looked forward to reading what was happening to them as the story progressed. Having finished the book, I've found myself missing the characters.
I particularly enjoyed the story because of the extensive research associated with middle-ages cathedral construction. Additionally, the detailed descriptions of medieval culture and lifestyle were as entertaining as they were enlightening.
Ken Follett thoroughly researched his material - I read he took nearly ten years to develop the story. Perhaps that explains why he wrapped up the story in less than 100 pages. Ten years is a long time to invest into writing a book - maybe he just got tired of it when he reached the end.
Nearly 15 years have passed since Follett wrote "The Pillars of the Earth" and he has recently completed another book of the same genre, centering around 14th Century at Kingsbridge Cathedral. I 'm looking forward to reading "World Without End" soon.(less)
"...one flew east, one flew west, and one flew over the cuckoo's nest."
I first read, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” when I was fourteen. I remember c...more"...one flew east, one flew west, and one flew over the cuckoo's nest."
I first read, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” when I was fourteen. I remember checking it out at the library and my only reason for picking it out was because I liked the name. The following year, Jack Nicholson starred as Randall Patrick McMurphy, the convict who decided to have himself placed in a psychiatric hospital in lieu of finishing out his prison sentence in a work camp. While no book can ever be matched by a movie, and Hollywood's rendition was not all that bad, it never came close to what Ken Kesey was able to accomplish with his prose.
McMurphy’s fateful decision to take on the ward tyrant Nurse Ratched - a twisted woman whose sinister control was unchallenged untl Randall McMurphy came along. McMurphy's arrival exposed Nurse Ratched's manipulative nature and her undermining the patients ability to improve their situation. This placed McMurphy and Ratched on a collision course.
At first blush, McMurphy appeared on the surface to be self-centered. However, he was soon forced to decide whether to secure his personal interests or sacrifice them for the greater good of his fellow inpatients.
Kesey had a powerful influence on my love for books and, while I typically never re-read a book, I decided to give this book another go after finishing Wallace Stegner's, “On Writing and Teaching Fiction.” Stegner is credited with having been a major influence on Ken Kesey who was a student of his at Stanford University where Kesey started his manuscript of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest.
In the thirty five years that have passed since I first read Cuckoo's nest, I am amazed at how much richer the story has become. At fourteen years old, I was particularly impressed by McMurphy's brash, devil-be-damned nature.
This time around, I was more affected by McMurphy's decision to take a stand. Because of that, the book was particularly disturbing. I suppose because with three and half of more decades of living under my belt, age has afforded me more opportunities to witness Man’s inhumanity to Man.
That said, I have seen far less McMurphy’s in my lifetime than I have seen people of the Nurse Ratched variety. McMurphys definitely seem to be waning in number. I have always had an abiding respect for the McMurphys of the world - more so now that I am older. They are becoming rarer by the day while the Ratched mentality seem to be ever on the rise. I may not like the Ratcheds of the world but I certainly do understand them.
This book continues to be on my short list of books to read if I was forced to be marooned on an abandoned island. I appreciate Kesey because of his ability to point out the intrinsic value of all Human Beings and moreover, his literary admonition that we ought never dismiss people on the basis of our pre-determined, prescriptive notions that tend to be overly dismissive simply because we are obsessed with status and social standing.
It reminds me of Mohadnas K. Ghandi’s observation that, “All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family, and each one of us is responsible for the misdeeds of all the others. I cannot detach myself from the wickedest soul."
The sooner we all realize we are all in it together – it meaning life – the less we will be inclined to diminish one another and basing such dismissal on arbitrary criteria that serve whatever personal or group interest to our own end.(less)