The number one most memorable thing about this book: it was slooooow. When it takes me a month (a month!) to read a book, you know it's painfully hardThe number one most memorable thing about this book: it was slooooow. When it takes me a month (a month!) to read a book, you know it's painfully hard to get through. I've read 900+ page books in less time, and this is only 426 pages.
Everyone acted and spoke like they were in some obscure indie film; it all felt so stilted. The characters were more like actors reading lines given to them than characters or people. And the women were the worst of all: completely one-dimensional and flat. They were only there to be the objects of desire (not love!) of the males. And even though it kinda felt like the males knew this, the fact that the author didn't care to actually flesh them out irked me. Not that anyone else was given much of a personality either, though. Even probably the most exciting (or at least salacious) plot point in the book, the headscarf girls' suicides, was oddly flat and cardboard.
I'm king of really surprised that Orhan Parmuk is a Noble-prize winning author. I mean...really? Yeah, I feel a sense of satisfaction reading a book about modern Turkey by a Turkish author (pat on the back! look how smart and cultured I am!) and Parmuk explores important issues facing Turkey that it's important and interesting to read about (religion v. secularism, the relationship with the West, what is modernity?, etc.) BUT I feel like someone who can win a frickin' Noble prize can do that and...y'know, write a good book at the same time. This one was just kind of a slog....more
I think we need to spend some time apart. I’m glad we tried, I really am. But I just don’t think things are working out between usDear Michael Chabon,
I think we need to spend some time apart. I’m glad we tried, I really am. But I just don’t think things are working out between us. I know everyone will think I’m crazy—everyone loves you! Hell, my family loves you. But we just aren’t good together. There’s no spark, you know? I just…I just don’t enjoy our time together. You're a great guy, but you just can't give me what I'm looking for.
You're an ideas man, and I love that about you. Like, for example, Gentlemen of the Road. Great idea. Love it, Michael. I mean, who writes about the 9th century Near East? No one. But you did, and that was really amazing. I really do love how big and wild and, hell, unique your ideas are. I’m going to miss that about you. And, hey, you’re almost as big into bromance as I am. Joe & Sammy in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay? Amram and Zelikman in Gentlemen? You love two men who have each other’s backs fighting against the world. And I do, too. We do have things in common, Michael. Just…not enough.
But…this was a pulp novel. And you kind of played with that, but at the same time you didn’t transcend it. There’s subverting a trope, and then there’s just playing into it. Pulp novels are big on adventure, but not really there with things like character development. It felt muddled and confused and just kind of flat.
And there’s just one more thing. Sometimes I feel you’re too…defensive, and it clouds how you look at the world. Maybe that’s where our real problem lies. And I think I understand where you’re coming from. I had a surprisingly moving conversation with a friend recently of the “we will never again march passively to our deaths” mantra that motivates a lot of people these days. There’s a reason why people have chips on their shoulders, Michael. Some wounds cut so deep that the scar remains on succeeding generations. Your reaction is normal. But it’s hard to really understand others when you’re so sure you already know what they’re thinking.
Look, this is all coming up because of your discussion of the original title. You wanted to call this book Jews With Swords. And you were offended when people found the title hilarious. You took it to mean that people were thinking of the title through Jewish stereotypes. That it was the fact that Jews were holding swords that was so humorous. But, Michael, that’s not why it’s funny. I realize that there is a stereotype of Jews out there as nebbish and spindly and weak—the kind of person that is more likely to be bullied and picked on than to be a fighting badass. I would argue that the stereotype is dying down, but that’s not the point here. The humor of the title had nothing to do with the fact that it was about Jews. It’s the fact that the title itself is RIDICULOUS. Try replacing “Jews” with any other religion. Just try it. Catholics With Swords. Hindus With Swords. Presbyterians With Swords.. It’s ridiculous, right? Or try any other ethnicity/nationality: White People With Swords. Hispanics With Swords. Germans With Swords. Somalis With Swords. Still funny. “X With Swords” is just an incredibly pulpy, zany, giggle-producing title. But you didn’t acknowledge that, and I think that defensive view bleeds through into your writing and, frankly, weakens it.
I’m sure you won’t even notice that I’m gone, what with all those awards you’ve won to keep you warm at night. Maybe in a few years we can try again. But right now, I think it's best we see other people.
A comedy of terrors with a feel of being a mix of Catch-22 (absurdist look at horror and violence) and The White Tiger (morally ambiguous unreliable nA comedy of terrors with a feel of being a mix of Catch-22 (absurdist look at horror and violence) and The White Tiger (morally ambiguous unreliable narrator).
General Zia is one of the point-of-view narrators in this story. The other is Ali Shigri, a Junior Officer in the Pakistani Air Force, and son of the late Colonel Shigri. Ali's father was an apparent suicide, but Ali is convinced he was murdered by the president and is out for revenge. Tied up in his plans for vengeance is Ali's air force roommate "Baby O," who has disappeared (Ali claims he had no idea that O planned to desert, but no one believes him).
This is a hard book to describe. I guess a dark satire is the best way to do it. It's a good read (longlisted for the Booker Prize - though that means less and less to me these days) but a bit complicated (so not one you can breeze through). ...more
**spoiler alert** This book took way too long to read because it could just not hold my interest. It’s about harems and enslaved English women and los**spoiler alert** This book took way too long to read because it could just not hold my interest. It’s about harems and enslaved English women and lost loves! How could it be so gosh darn boring?
To start with, the modern storyline was COMPLETELY unnecessary and worthless. Historian Elizabeth was so milquetoast I wanted to slap her. I knew I had read another book recently with modern/historical intertwining timelines with the modern girl involved with a guy who was no good for her she refused to break it off with and I hated it in the earlier book. And then going back through my reviews I realized Birdsong was the one with the same god damn plot and I hated it then and I hate it now. I hate it when the heroine is with a guy who she is desperately in love/lust with yet makes her miserable and she is too passive to break it off even though she knows she should. It always makes me start off by hating her. And Marius was greasy and creepy so her enduring passion for him just made me hate her more. And THEN the author gives her a Turkish love interest and they “meet cute” by him staring at her like a frickin’ stalker while she’s eating and her seductively eating baklava when she knows he’s watching. THAT’S NOT A MEET CUTE!!! THAT’S A MEET CREEEEEPY! And there was no chemistry between them at all and he had no depth at all and it was one of the worst “romances” I’ve read.
Topped only perhaps by the historical romance plot since Paul and Celia never actually get to meet up in the entire book and there is ONE flashback of them interacting when they walk in a garden a bit and he tells her how much she’s grown-up. Ummm...yeah, that’s not the epic love that will fight against the Ottoman sultan and the harem rules that I thought this book offered me.
Paul’s plot was pretty much “oh, my dead fiancée isn’t dead! I want her back to save her from that rapist sultan. Oh, looks like I can’t save her, not that I ever really tried or made any attempt AT ALL to rescue her. Oh well, back to England.”
And Celia’s plot was “I am a virgin and I do not want to have sex with that icky sultan. I want my old life! Oh, Paul’s here! I will make no attempt to reach him or get a message out to him (well, one lame attempt that barely counts) or tell him to try to rescue me or seduce/bribe a guard to escape or curry favor with the sultan’s mother or try to get married off to a political favorite to get out of the harem and possibly escape with Paul more easily or ANYTHING AT ALL TO ESCAPE. Instead I will be used as a pawn by other people and not so much act as react to everything and get blown about by the winds of fate/intrigues of the harem and be lame and fail as a heroine. Oh, and I’m totally in love with Paul despite the fact that I met him about twice and never even married him and can’t really name that many stellar qualities about him or be specific about what I love about him.” Boring! At least her friend had some spunk and DID things but sadly she was just a supporting character.
And the part about Celia’s ghost possibly appearing to Elizabeth randomly? Lame and unnecessary, like most of this book. ...more
**spoiler alert** Julia is the heroine of the modern storyline. The book starts with her married jerk of a lover breaking up with her (in public, so s**spoiler alert** Julia is the heroine of the modern storyline. The book starts with her married jerk of a lover breaking up with her (in public, so she can’t cause a scene!). She has been having an affair with her "best friend"’s husband for seven years. Clearly a former best friend, considering Julia has been too embarrassed to talk to her for the past seven years. Julia claims she feels bad about the affair but (1) she’s all weepy for herself that Michael broke up with her; (2) she was never, ever going to end it herself; (3) she seems more concerned about getting caught, or the relationship ending than she does about her "best friend"’s feelings; (4) she pretty much says that the affair is her friend’s own fault for being such an ice queen.
Michael, besides being an adulterer, is an all-around schmuck. He clearly cares about no one but himself and is insulting and belittling. And when he realizes that he accidentally gave Julia a valuable book, he stalks her across England and all the way to Morocco and breaks into both her apartment and hotel room. And really doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with this. It's unclear why anyone would be romantically interested, much less two seemingly intelligent women.
The wife, Anna, is terrible in her own way. She apparently has known for a long time that Julia has been running around with her husband. She airily forgives her. Wait, you don't care that your supposed friend has been screwing your husband? And an even bigger what the hell: “In fact, when I persuaded him to marry me, I felt weirdly guilty, as if I’d taken him away from you. Left alone, you’d probably have made each other a lot happier than Michael and I have made one another.” WHAT. NO. SO MUCH NO. One, Michael can’t make anyone happy because that would mean giving a damn about another human being, which he is clearly incapable of. Also, ANNA DID NOT TAKE MICHAEL AWAY FROM JULIA HE WAS A GROWN MAN AND HE COULD CHOOSE WHO TO MARRY IT WAS NOT LIKE HE WAS TRICKED INTO IT. I also vaguely recall that Michael and Anna were engaged before Julia met him, but I cannot even be bothered to double check that. Anna seems to have very little respect for her husband, but when asked why she stays with him, chalks it up to the fact that she can’t help loving him. Which, fine, make your own life miserable. But Anna reveals that she has somehow tricked Michael into impregnating her. Michael, who it has been made very clear absolutely loathes children and is paranoid about birth control (he checks condoms for holes). So Anna is thrilled to bring a child into a loveless, screwed-up marriage with a stalker/burglar/thief who reviles fatherhood and will doubtless continue to have affairs. Why? Why would you do that to an innocent child? It is one thing to ruin your own life – it is your choice, as miserable as it is. But it is not fair to subject a child to that. I will concede that terrible husbands could make good fathers. But it is clear that Michael will NOT make a good father. He will make a terrible father and will resent the child, both for the fact he never wanted children, and because it will further trap him into a marriage he doesn’t want. This is not good in any way.
Anyway, the plot of the story revolves around Julia getting this old book with diary entries contained within it. For some reason, Julia only reads the journal at a plot-convenient pace. Despite the fact she goes on train rides and plane rides and could easily have finished it quickly. But no, she reads it at the same pace as the narrative. Why? Plot contrivance.
The historical storyline, as told via the journal, centers on Catherine (“Cat”), a girl living in 1625 Cornwall with a talent for embroidery. Her honorable but oblivious cousin, Robert, is desperately in love with her, even though she makes it very clear she cares for him but does not love him back. He nonetheless gets engaged to her (I do not even know how this works – Cat’s patroness/mistress, the local noblelady, supports the match and therefore the engagement happens, even though I’m not sure Cat ever actually said yes). Robert is technically a good guy. And he seems brave and kind and stand-up and all that. And yet he is forcing his cousin to marry him, because he doesn’t care what she actually wants. No, he is so sure that what she really needs is to settle down and get married and then she can do her little embroidery projects and be content. Even though she has told him she feels trapped in their tiny town and wants more than this provincial life. And I get it, this was probably a fairly typical historical thought process on his end. But this blindness and selfishness does explain his later downfall. He’s a nice guy but not a good guy.
Anyway, Cat and dozens of her countrymen get kidnapped by Barbary pirates. They are now slave cargo, which means that they are in crowded, filthy conditions with several people (including children) dying. Also, an old man who is considered too useless for slavery is dispassionately tossed overboard. Cat is lucky in her slavery, as the pirate captain falls in love with her. He buys her and sets her up in his household a master embroiderer. So her dreams come true - she escapes her tiny village and gets to embroider to her heart's content. However, it is presumed all the other women (and probably many of the children and men) are going to be (brutally) raped for the rest of their lives by their owners. And yet the pirate captain is the romantic hero of the historical section. I...I just can't.
Let us remind ourselves that everything the pirate captain owns comes from the profit of human misery. His entire justification is that the Spanish tortured/raped/killed his family members because of their religion, so it’s fair to torture/rape/kidnap/kill Christians. Because that is an argument that makes sense (if you were a murderer trying to justify your actions). And it would be one thing if he comes to realize that his actions are wrong. But he doesn't. There’s no guarantee that he won’t continue to be a pirate captain/slave dealer in the future. Just because he’s nice to Catherine doesn’t make him a worthy love interest. Why is it alright for a romantic interest to be a “bad guy” if it is something “sexy/romantic” like pirate captain but not if he's an actual serial killer/kidnapper? I mean, Ted Bundy was handsome, but that does NOT make him an appropriate romantic hero. BECAUSE HE IS A KILLER AND KIDNAPPER (and also rapist, which I guess to the pirate captain's credit he is not, although he knowingly sold women and children to rapists, sooooooo I don’t think that gives him much of a moral leg to stand on).
Back to the modern timeline, Julia goes to Morocco and eventually falls in love with a Moroccan man named Idriss. He is mostly unobjectionable, but occasionally supremely paternalistic and controlling. For example, he takes some of Julia's property and refuses to return it, instead putting it in his pocket. He also takes the journal while Julia's sleeping without her permission. And then Julia wants to read some relevant letters and he tells her no, you have to read everything in the proper order, and keeps the letters until she finishes the journal.
No one comes out of this book looking good. ...more
I thought that Satrapi did an amazing job balancing the tragedy and humor of growing up in revolutionary Iran. I was afraid after the never-ending, heI thought that Satrapi did an amazing job balancing the tragedy and humor of growing up in revolutionary Iran. I was afraid after the never-ending, heart-wending pain of The Complete Maus that I would spend another afternoon feeling like my soul had been ripped out and trampled upon. But Satrapi, maybe because it was a child’s-eye view of the situation, made her story more a dark comitragedy than a straight-up tragedy. Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely moments that ripped at my heart, but there were also bits that had me giggling.
I think graphic novels are an amazingly excellent way to look at another culture or a particularly horrific moment of human history (or both). I think a novelization of this could get bogged down, or could get dull. The pictures keep the story going and while I thought the dialogue was really good, the focus is less on the writing per se than on the story, which I think is very helpful. I feel like I got a better sense of Iran and the Iranian people in this graphic novel than from all the news reports I’ve read about the country. ...more
I was avoiding this one for a while, because I thought it would too depressing. Also, I thought it would end with the Reluctant Fundamentalist blowingI was avoiding this one for a while, because I thought it would too depressing. Also, I thought it would end with the Reluctant Fundamentalist blowing something up. He doesn't. He gets radicalized, but he isn't himself a suicide bomber.
It was an interesting character study of a man becoming disillusioned with the world and it has the Unreliable Narrator and Morally Ambiguous (Villainous?) Narrator I love so much.
I did think it was hilarious that the whole “romance” angle was…the exact same thing as in Norwegian Wood! I don’t think it was conscious at all, but it was bizarre. Emotionally fragile love interest? Check. Girl broken up after the love of her life/childhood best friend/other half dies young? Check. Girl can never quite be with the protagonist because she is still too hung up on her dead beloved? Check. Girl is nonetheless perfect, desirable? Check. (view spoiler)[Girl ultimately ends up in a “rehabilitation center” and is visited by the protagonist who makes her feel no better and she kills herself afterwards? Check. (hide spoiler)] Is this a new trend? I think I will deem it Manic-Depressive Pixie Dream Girl.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Ms. Russell, you know I adore you, right? You know I think you are one of the most brilliant writers I have ever had the honor to read, right? So pleaMs. Russell, you know I adore you, right? You know I think you are one of the most brilliant writers I have ever had the honor to read, right? So please keep in mind what I say is said out of the utmost affection for you: WHY DO YOU HATE LOVE, RUSSELL?!? WHY ARE YOU THE JOSS WHEDON OF BOOKS?!?
I have read all of Russell’s books (barring her newest one) and in every one there is not a single couple that makes it to the end still together. Usually because one or both is dead. That is not the case here, but what I thought was a potential love story was…not (to put it kindly).
Let’s stick with what I liked first. Russell, as always, is brilliant with characters. Here the protagonist is Agnes, a spinster who becomes independently wealthy when her entire family dies during the Great Flu Epidemic.
Agnes is a doormat with Manipulative Mama issues. I will say this now: no one likes a doormat heroine. They are invariably annoying. But Agnes’ is a story of personal growth and how is growth possible if the heroine starts out awesome? Agnes does not stay a doormat. She is clever and she has spunk; she just needs to gain some spine (which she does, of course, in her own quiet way). Plus, it’s very interesting (though, again, frustrating) to read a character who truly is so brainwashed she thinks that Mama did what she did out of love and only spoke the harsh truth when the reader is shouting SHE WAS AWFUL SHE WAS AWFUL SHE WAS LYING TO AND MANIPULATING YOU HOW CAN YOU NOT SEE THAT?!?
Russell centers this story on the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference, in which such dynamic historical figures as Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill and Lady Gertrude Bell divided up the Middle East into what we know today. Russell does an excellent job of giving life to these historical luminaries. The history itself is fascinating and not anything (I’m sorry to say) I knew anything about.
Now, what I didn’t like. Russell always waxes eloquent on religion and politics in her books, but this one was the most pointed. There is much more preaching here than I’m used to. It was not the bludgeoning to death that, say, Barbara Kingsolver does. It was more gently done, but still quite pointed.
It was also very interesting (and by interesting, I mean weird) that in a book about how the people of the Middle East didn’t get a voice….the people of the Middle East didn’t get a voice. There was one named Egyptian character: a nice young waiter with a child-bride. Yeah…not really undoing stereotypes with that one. I get that Agnes was a privileged white woman in a racist society so would not really interact with non-whites in any meaningful way. But Lawrence frickin’ led an Arab army and was respected and known by many influential Middle Easterners and you’d think there would be ONE main character who would be non-white. Russell is an absolutely brilliant person who thinks long and deeply and waxes eloquent about a lot of difficult topics so I cannot think that she just overlooked this fact. But I’m trying to understand her choice. It is just weirdly ironic that when one of the main points is that Middle Easterners should’ve been listened to and able to speak for themselves, only the white characters get significant speaking roles.
Mostly, though: Agnes and Karl (the dashing German maybe-spy). Oh, Karl. I cannot talk about you without spoilers, so spoiler tag it is. (view spoiler)[I liked Karl’s initial set-up and thought it was done well. I was charmed by him and all ready to forgive him for initially using Agnes for his spying ends (in my mind he would truly fall in love with Agnes and maybe give up his spying ways. Hahaha…did I forget who I was reading?). By the end I HATED him. First off, being a spy is cool. Being an adulterer? NOT COOL. This is the third book in as many weeks that I’ve read where cheating is generally okay because the cheated-upon girlfriend/boyfriend/wife is not a protagonist. They are a shadowy figure that gets very little play in the book. If I was engaged/married, I’d be very worried that the universe was trying to tell me something with the sudden explosion of books with happily cheating couples in my life. Since I’m not, I’m just annoyed. It’s bad enough that Karl feels like it’s perfectly acceptable to cheat on his beautiful wife. It’s just as bad that Agnes doesn’t feel sorry at all and just considers it a pleasant memory and a chance to be exciting. Whatever, Agnes. Also, Karl decides to show Agnes that he doesn’t love her and was just pity-screwing her (essentially) by letting her drown. Both Agnes and her adorable daschund (which Karl, by the way, professes to adore) fall into the Nile. Karl doesn’t want to get his suit wet so lets them both drown until they’re rescued by the boat rower. Then he laughs at them. I’m sorry, but this is the same urbane, gentlemanly, kind, sad-eyed Karl from the beginning of the book? You know what a better way of letting someone know you’re totally not leaving your wife for them would be? TELLING THEM THAT. I think there is a much better way to get your point across than I would let you die. I mean, maybe Karl knew they were never in real danger because the rower would save them, but that is still so cruel that any goodwill he had left evaporated. And Agnes was like, Yep, this is his way of telling me he doesn’t love me. Should’ve known! No harm done, I still have very fond memories of him. ARRRGH. Seriously, NO COUPLE CAN BE HAPPY IN RUSSELL’S WORLD. Either they have to die or they have to turn into evil, cheating bastards. (hide spoiler)]
Lastly, the beyond-the grave thing was just completely, totally lame. It felt like a way to shoe-horn other famous people into the story. Who else has been in Egypt? Okay, now they will all be in the afterlife together with Agnes and discussing the Middle East. You can do better than this, Russell. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A collection of blog entries (and a few other tidbits) from an Iraqi girl during the American occupation of her country. I will say it’s a bit repetitA collection of blog entries (and a few other tidbits) from an Iraqi girl during the American occupation of her country. I will say it’s a bit repetitive, but this is one of those books where it’s less about the writing than it is about the experience. This is a chance to see the world and the Iraq war through the eyes of a normal teenager who grew up in a different culture and country. It’s sometimes very nice to step into someone else’s life and get a perspective you would otherwise never have. ...more
Can I just say how much I love the feel of this book? I usually get library copies of books, which means they have those weird plasticy hardcovers. BuCan I just say how much I love the feel of this book? I usually get library copies of books, which means they have those weird plasticy hardcovers. But paperbacks are more my style and this one just felt so nice (the pages are raggedy like old-school books and the cover is textured). It’s so pretty (of course I proceeded to spill on it about three times so it’s not nearly so pretty anymore). It was just a joy to hold in my hands. Does that sound weird? This is why I will never accept e-readers as the future. As a supplement, yes. As a replacement? NEVER! (and I'm saying this as I'm about to buy a Kindle for myself, because I'm going to spend several months next year in a foreign country and need easy access to English-language books and don't want to haul them all home/try to give them away when I return AGAIN; so, yes, I do understand that e-readers can be really great in some instances).
Okay, end diatribe. Now onto the book itself. I'm usually not a fan of slice-of-life books. I generally find descriptions tedious and end up trying to skim my way to action and/or romance, or at the very least dialogue. This being, really, a slice-of-life book (albeit with a magical realism overlay), I should've been bored. But I never was. I thought Lukas' descriptions of Istanbul were lovely and I loved that glimpse-into-the-past feeling that I get out of good historical fiction (despite the magical realism, I view it as historical fiction).
Child prodigy Eleonora Cohen is meant for great things. The portents foretell it. Unfortunately, these great things do not include having awesome magic powers. They do include being clever and well-read. In fact, being so clever that she comes to the attention of the Sultan and gains the reputation for being an oracle (not that she can foresee the future, she just gives really great advice). There's also some spying and political intriguing going on, but mostly it's about life in Istanbul and how this one little girl is quietly special and the Sultan has an overbearing mama and a warmonger advisor and, really, the little girl gives much better advice.
This is a good book for a lazy summer day. It's as languid as the Bosphorus (I'm makings this up; I don't know how languid the Bosphorus is, but it seemed pretty slow-moving when I was there). It's a pleasant, enjoyable read. Never boring, just leisurely.
Disclosure: I got this through GoodRead's First Reads....more