Canadian author, Lawrence Hill first published this book in his home country under the title of, "The Book of Negroes", which the author borrowed fromCanadian author, Lawrence Hill first published this book in his home country under the title of, "The Book of Negroes", which the author borrowed from a book created as a list of those black loyalists who were promised safe passage for their defense of the Great Britain during the American Revolution. The book's title was changed out of fear that the book's original one would negatively impact sales because the word,'negro' is a pejorative in the United States.
The story details a black woman, Aminata Diallo's life story, from her childhood in the African Village of Bayo - located somewhere along what came to be described by British cartographers a the slave coast located along the Atlantic margin of Africa - her subsequent enslavement, trip to America, her freedom, to the account of how she returned to Africa, and then traveled to England at the urging of a growing abolitionist movement headed by William Wilberforce, famed writer of the Hymn, "Amazing Grace" - but that is another story altogether. I only mention this interesting tidbit of information because it ties in so well with the writing of historical fiction.
Hill's story-telling is so compelling for me because of the care he has taken to conduct his critical research.
Moreover, because it seems so far-fetched at times, having such historical anchors make the story seem plausible despite such impossibility when taken in total. Regardless, Hill accomplishes the feat only because he has such a command of the information necessary to tell such a story.
I very much appreciate the care taken to tell this story because it offers so much by way of historical accuracy that some profound and thought provoking lessons are offered up in the telling of historical fiction.
This is the kind of book I so enjoy because it has a level of entertainment value to be sure, but it also provides some valuable information that brings history to life simply because so much of the story is steeped in fact.
I definitely think this book ought to be on any reading list that covers American Colonial history at the college level. And it should be on any High School reading list as well. For anyone seeking insights about slavery, black consciousness, and sociological influences or perhaps even the contemporary social underpinnings of a people subjugated and enslaved, this is a great place from which to embark.
Because the prose is clear, and it's historiography is tight.
Get the book. You will be better for having read it.
The subject matter of this disturbing book is the death penalty – more specifically, wrongful prosecut***Please note: this review contains spoilers***
The subject matter of this disturbing book is the death penalty – more specifically, wrongful prosecution and the miscarriage of justice.
It is a story about a serial sex offender whose life is allegedly coming to an end because of an inoperable brain tumor. His confession, which could exonerate a young black man - erroneously accused, convicted and doomed to die in Huntsville, Texas - comes too late.
Here is what the book made me think about:
When we are young, it makes sense to see the world in rather absolute terms. Because our experiences are limited, we rely on quick, easy answers as a matter of survival. With the passage of time our life experiences teach us there are few issues that are either ’black’ or ‘white.'. Consequences are measured and decisions are weighted. The greater good is balanced against personal gain and self-preservation. Adult decision-making is a matter of pragmatism versus dogma and reality versus the ideal.
With age comes experience whose continual ebbs and flows slowly soften the boundaries between right and wrong. Our absolutist world segues into the realm where shades of gray predominate. The anticipation of youth molts into the reminiscence of maturity, a longing for a simpler time. Never is it so apparent than when we are facing times of crisis.
Intuitively, we understand that when facing calamity, we ought to slow down. Experience tells us trying times are when reason ought to prevail. Sadly, something about the Human condition prevents such rationality and reliance upon logic. Despite how irrational it may be, in a world that seems ever unwinding and deteriorating - especially in times of stress and deep emotional turmoil – the quickest, the most definitive - the most sought answer lies in simplicity. And, that is where our problems begin.
As a civilized society, our obvious remedy is to dole out justice through legally accepted venues. We have developed a legal system of codified laws prescribing punishment for breaking the law from the most mundane of offenses to the extreme. Understandably - with an eye focused on religion for guidance - we seek a means of how exactly to mete out that justice fairly, equitably and without prejudice. Taking of a Human life is a serious matter and arguments based on religiosity carry great sway over how we - as a society - deal with lethal Human transgressions via state-sanctioned execution.
Now, if the media is to be believed, violence is rampant in America. There is little doubt that they have a powerful influence over the collective consciousness of those who tune in for the news coverage. It seems like there is no limit on just how cruel - even vicious - Humans can behave toward one another. Now I am not solely accusing 'the media' of perpetrating mass hysteria. There is a need and there is a need to feed. This symbiosis plays itself out on a more practical concern. The Media's primary motivation for patronage is ratings driven and the ever present, bottom line dictates of supply & demand. America is enthralled with violence. We can't get enough of it. Indeed, crime does pay. We love the 'shock and awe.'
Couple the ratings-driven pimping of violence and the unlimited supply if politicians who pander to the American public by clamoring for law & order, inciting fear and it is no wonder that God-fearing Americans have become fluent in the double-speak of religion where they can simultaneously lament the murder of a fetus and fervently abide in their belief of the sanctity of Capital punishment all in one fell swoop.
Perhaps I am giving into my own reminiscences here but nowadays, there seems to be a great void in leadership both politically and in houses of worship. I am not only talking about American society. It is being played out all over the planet. Humanity throughout the world - owing to the maladies of emotionally driven responses, swathed in religiosity - account for the more predictable Human condition where vengeance and fear take precedence over rationality, compassion and forgiveness. We opt for the immediate - the dramatic.
Personally, I fail to draw any clear distinction between the Sarah Palins and the Muqtada al Sadrs of the world - well maybe Sarah is right - the difference comes down to lipstick ...more like lipschtick.
I am convinced that is precisely why Cable News and Faux news networks have become so popular: they focus on problems and offer sound-bite solutions. Like snacks, the messages being proffered for complex, difficult issues the solutions are filling, even tasty but completely lacking in nutritional value. Junk news is society’s junk food, its pre-processed agenda.
Grisham weaves a decent story that reveals less-than-honest ambitions and motivations of key players in the process of pursuing justice. Grisham’s character, Robbie Flak – the pugnacious defense attorney - sums it up very well when he says; “Death binds people in odd ways…”
The first killer in this story’s most immediate victims were Nichole Yarber, the seventeen year-old cheerleader he stalked and her classmate, Donté Drumm – the fall guy slated to die. The second story carries larger implications; society is the ultimate victim, and ironically, the perpetrator, the second killer.
I suppose the most disturbing part of this story is how, through legal processes and religious appropriation, something as sacred and high-minded as justice can be meted out so rationally and, with so much slight-of-hand. In order for society to move forward, it does so with a conventionality of thought and unquestioned respect for a process that everyone assumes is working flawlessly and free of the taint of personal agendas. This is a story about process rum amok. Despite America’s best efforts to assure fairness and lack of bias, meting out justice in such a routine manner, there are countless points along the way where rules can be bent, manipulated and ignored outright as a means of affecting the outcome.
The Confession explores the motivations of killers, how they differ individually and how they share a certain commonality. It is an exploration of how the individual offense touches off a cascade of events where posterity reveals, we collectively become killers. The characteristic ideal of blind justice is usurped through winks, blinks, nods and squints; it is anything but just.
Capital punishment is something I do not agree with for reasons philosophical, religious, spiritual, moral and even fiscal considerations. I understand that such a stance nowadays is unpopular because, contrary to exhaustive research, swift and terrible punishment is popularly perceived to be a powerful deterrent for would-be rapists and murderers.
Violence is infectious, it is self-perpetuating. Its beginnings are almost imperceptible. However, once seeded, it lies in wait - like some inoculated virus awaiting the right conditions to manifest itself. It wears many masks - some brutal and others cloaked in righteousness. But, let's not deceive ourselves; it is still violence.
Aristotle said,“Anyone can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way - that is not within everyone's power and that is not easy."
There is a time to be indignant and injustice is something to be indignant over. Robbie Flak is right to be angry just as society is right to be upset at the violence perpetrated upon the innocent. But, we can never forget that - with rare exception - society's monsters are often a product of their environment just as the self-righteous and the indignant are. People who feel powerless relish it wherever and whenever they happen upon it and its intoxicating effects are difficult to restrain, confine or relinquish. Perhaps that is the greatest reason we need to be reminded that we are all connected.
I agree with the Poet John Donne, "Each man's death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind..." [For Whom the Bell Tolls], and that is the lasting thought I can take away from this book which serves to remind the reader that extreme reactions, fueled by moments of passion where fear and anxiety are stoked by the desire for revenge - while regrettable, cannot be reversed
I am reminded of a cartoon series character named Pogo, created by Walt Kelly back in the seventies. Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I think this is what Grisham is trying to get across in his story line.
I haven't read all of Grisham's books. He has touched upon the topic of the Death Penalty in two other books, “An Innocent Man” and “The Chamber.” The former actually chronicles a real-life miscarriage of justice and I have not read it yet. I have read the latter and I did like it, despite the ending.
Thus far, I have read seven Grisham books and for me, The Confession ranks in the top two....more
Dave Pelzer's The Lost Boy is a difficult story about an abused boy who enters foster care and eventually develops a semblance of normalcy over time.Dave Pelzer's The Lost Boy is a difficult story about an abused boy who enters foster care and eventually develops a semblance of normalcy over time. It is a compelling albeit tortured story of an abused child that is difficult to take in. Ultimately, however, it is a story about redemption, and serves as an example of what can happen when people believe in a child who hasn't even a clue that his life could be better.
In all, it is a sad story about a kid who was born into a family that had some serious emotional problems. I think what most affected me was how Pelzer described the pattern of abuse and evocation of a dynamic that I would describe as the domestic violence victim persona - where victims make excuses for, and even protect their abusers out of fear. The trade-off for revealing the 'family secret' as Pelzer describes it is that the whistle blower suffers the ultimate punishment; s/he is ostracized and shunned for life. Unfortunately, the price for keeping such family secrets is that the victim is evermore tied to the family s/he loves, but at the price of intense, unending social, and emotional abuse. While the physical abuse may eventually disappear, the threat of impending doom never leaves, and the victim is forever tethered emotionally to the abusive family by nothing more than a sick need to belong.
His story relates how Pelzer even attempted to gain acceptance by using some of the same dysfunctional behaviors that helped him to survive in his family of abuse. Consequently, it serves as a cautionary tale to people who have emerged from such dysfunctional constellations with a burning desire to belong leads to compromises of the self; such tradeoffs are simply not worth the high moral cost borne out of a need to be a part of the relationship.
Pelzer effectively exposes the dynamic of dysfunctional family secrets and the price paid for keeping them. This is where the value of reading a memoir such as, The Lost Boy; knowledge is power. It is the key to breaking such cycles of abuse. To that end, families bound together on the basis of such connections are little more than distorted affiliations that rely on manipulation and abuse to keep them bound to one another.
When I saw the title of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. It is a line from my favorite poem entitled, "If" - written by the English poet, RudyarWhen I saw the title of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. It is a line from my favorite poem entitled, "If" - written by the English poet, Rudyard Kipling.
Craig Mullaney offers an insightful, informative account of his years as a Westpoint Cadet, Rhodes Scholar, Infantry/Airborne Ranger and Soldier who served in Afghanistan.
His writing is engaging and has a talent as a story teller. His recounting of the events seems convincing and not at all contrived. I appreciate his humanity and thoughtful approach in his descriptions of what life was like in Afghanistan. Most of all, I appreciate that this book is not presented as some sort of recruitment tool for the US Army as it is not an indictment of the ongoing wars in the Middle East.
This book is not filled with blood and guts and the violence is not gratuitous by any means. It is my sincere desire that the policy makers, military strategists and politicians realize what a wealth of knowledge and wisdom there is to be gained from seeking counsel from citizen soldiers such as Craig Mullaney.
I loved his response when queried by an US Naval Academy cadet who pointedly asked him, "What do you think, sir that you would have done differently?" after hearing Mullaney's recounting the events that led to his first loss of a fellow Army Ranger who was under his command.
Mullaney responded, "The best thing we could have done for Afghanistan was to get out of our Humvees and drink more green chai. We should have focused less on finding the enemy. and more on finding our friends."
I take great comfort in knowing that the Army has dedicated, intelligent and conscientious Americans serving in its ranks. ...more
This book succinctly summarizes the plight of Americas' indigenous people. I found myself reading the history feeling as though I was pushed off a cliThis 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. ...more
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. AfterQue 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!...more
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 aI'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..."...more
I approached this book with some reservation because I was already aware of President Jackson's history regarding treatment of Native Americans and hi I approached this book with some reservation because I was already aware of President Jackson's history regarding treatment of Native Americans and his stand on slavery. I did however come away with a few realizations - from a perspective that I had not previously known.
Jon Meacham detailed the changes that Jackson implemented regarding the Executive branch - his examples include;
1] Jackson's usage of the veto as a political tool coupled with his expansion of executive powers and establishment of the presidency as political force which did not exist prior to Jackson's tenure as President of the United States [POTUS:],
2] being the first to completely replace his presidential cabinet thereby establishing that those members served at the pleasure of the president.
3] his introduction of legislation (Force Act) to affect change and to forecast his preparedness to act in the event someone intended to break up the union. In other words, threatening something extreme in order to get something generally perceived to be less benign.
4] his usage of executive branch to force policy change (Banks)
5] his usage of the media for fomenting his ideas and for advancing his agenda.
6] his reference to the voting populace as a mandate to implement his populist ideas - or perhaps, appealing to the masses in order to implement his agenda.
7] invoking the spoils system he was the first to dismiss federal office holders en masse.
Allowing for tempo-centric considerations regarding his bigotry, his fervent nationalism and passionate voice for the common (white) man, Meacham painted a fairly accurate picture of a man who, judged according to the prevailing sentiments of his times - and by people who shared a common Northern European heritage - he would have been a great man. His willful, obstinate, fiercely loyal nature served him well.
The Roman philosopher Herodotus said, "Soft lands breed soft men." Andrew Jackson is a good example for that axiom; he was, to be certain a tough man and the genteel world of the Washington of his time certainly proved to be a place where he could push his way around without much appreciable resistance. Perhaps the greatest nuance of his time was that he could get his way regardless of the opposition. It appears the opposition soon learned the value of having a medium (the printed press) in order to mount an effective opposition.
If any of this sounds at all familiar, I suspect it is because the author is looking back at the nineteenth century with his feet firmly planted in the 21st. Andrew Jackson's presidency seems to be quite familiar with the administration of President George W. Bush.
In short, it smacks of Rovian politics and, - to me - this is where Meacham fell short; he did not detail how such powerful nuanced re-interpretation of presidential power could have come from such an uneducated man. The constitutional law behind Jackson's vision is powerful and highly academic and yet, it seems he just had a great head for constitutional law. It makes me wonder whether it was in fact Martin VanBuren who was the brains behind the operation. We will never know from this book.
Unfortunately, the aberrant leanings president Jackson held, even during his time, were already proving to be distasteful in nineteenth century America. His deathbed statements regarding Heaven not being exclusively a realm for whites only indicates he was cognizant of the inherent injustice for slaves in the world he was living and preparing to leave shortly. Also, once the crisis of nullification had been averted the first time, President Jackson wrote about the potential role that slavery was certain to play in the future (six days before he would appoint an obscure country lawyer - Abraham Lincoln - to a low Federal Postal position in Illinois.)
Old Hickory predicted that slavery would eventually lead to a civil war. Unfortunately the president's prescient nature was accurate but he did not see himself as the instrument that would bring such an abomination to an end. While the book is an interesting read, I did not find it too cumbersome as others have alluded to. I also have a difficult time dismissing this account of his life as a 'white-wash' as other readers have contended. There are many accounts in the story which address the unfair treatment of Native Americans and his stand on slavery. For anyone to ignore that Andrew Jackson was an example of and a product of his time is to fall into the same tempo-centric trap that he fell into. Consequently, while slavery and Jackson's forbearance of long-standing treaties with the sovereign Indian nations were the order of his day - application of 2009 standards in retrospect are just as unmerited as the sins his modern-day critics are frowning upon.
To me there is a greater lesson to be garnered in looking back upon history; the wrongs can be reflected upon with an eye toward ensuring that such similar errors may be more easily understood and even avoided in the future. And, there are plenty of lessons to be learned. I could not help but notice the similarities of nationalism and invocation of populist themes in order to affect change as evidenced in our past presidential administration. It strikes me that the themes which resonated so strongly during the popular Jackson Administration were recently echoed by the Bush II reign as well. So too were the voices of opposition. This not to imply that bigotry exists towards at the same level today as in 19th century America however, there is no denying that similar shadows persist toward Latin American immigrants and Muslims in the paranoiac, post-9/11 America we live in today. The ultimate question in this or any democracy is whether majority rule trumps minority rights.
For my part, this was decent book and, while I would recommend it, it will not rank among the best books I have read. It is nonetheless, a pointed study about what happens when strong-minded personalities enter the office of president. It also demonstrates how fluid the description of the office can be and moreover, how mercurial personalities can effect the outcome of history - but, owing to contemporary experiences with our own presidencies of late, we already knew that. ...more
What are you going to do once you read a book like this?
I am thankful for voices of conscience like Howard Zinn. And for those who might disagree withWhat are you going to do once you read a book like this?
I am thankful for voices of conscience like Howard Zinn. And for those who might disagree with me, please do yourselves a favor and don't be afraid to read Howard Zinn's body of work and then dare to compare the tripe that FOX's spin doctors - ex-sports casters and professional talking-heads - are passing off as history, and worse yet, using such bull%^$# to influence popular opinion, the economy, closing of America's borders and making social justice into a dirty word.
And here is the result; our economy is in shambles - no one at the that compost heap has been convicted. And whatever of the even weakest attempts to protect us from any future sacking of the American economic system have been systematically weakened to the point that they are of no utility. And all of this is done right under our noses simply because our our children are not being taught how to think for themselves.
It seems to me that so many people in the US have such a limited understanding of who they are and where they came from.
Considering revisionist fools with such a blatant agenda - people like Bill O'Reilley and Glenn Beck - outright liars who spin their yarns based on deeply held personal values, have such a stranglehold on American perspectives, I am not at all surprised that gridlock exists in Washington DC. And because of that, this great nation has ground to a halt. Ironically we have lost our moral compass because we have sought to limit religious, civil, economic and social rights precisely by promoting certain flavors of each and calling it a consensus. Regardless, such inanity will not stand the test of time, and if we, as a nation elect to maintain this continued course of action, we will receive our just desserts; we will have relegated ourselves to the trash heap of history - another failed experiment, like Fascism and Soviet styled politics.
But like the Soviets anyway, those with plenty of money get to wield the power, and they wreak havoc even if they don't have a nation-state. All they need is little fiefdoms and the guarantee of a few nuclear arsenals to do so.
It escapes me how the vast American public - so spoon-fed can have such a narrow grasp on merely 250 years of their own nation's history. It is no wonder we have lost standing in the world both morally and ethically.
Thus, because of our intra-national differences, I remain convinced that ours, will be the generation to witness the marginalization of America's standing in the world. All this attributable to the gross imbalance of power which wealthy businessmen like the Koch brothers wield in the electoral process. It may not be equitable, but they have plenty of money to bankroll spin doctors who willingly prostitute themselves to carp family values, G_d and tribalism as their vector of choice to to infect the American body politic with the single aim of protecting their wealth.
Zinn had it right; "A government that is ruthless about what it does to other people is also ruthless in what it does to us."
But his voice only lives on in books that aren't likely to be read - not by subsequent generations anyway. Unfortunately as we toot out horn from our borders, from sea to shining sea, the end result is that our xenophobia, avarice and a voguish pride in declaring our refusal to look out for one another is killing us just like the ebola virus which enters its host, takes over and turns everything to a slimy, disintegrated mess with deadly efficiency. (less) ...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 c"...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....more