The story's nothing special (though I may be saying that because its two main themes, first love and faith, were both things I somehow skipped over whThe story's nothing special (though I may be saying that because its two main themes, first love and faith, were both things I somehow skipped over while growing up), but the artwork is gorgeous. Well worth a read. ...more
This was a fun book to read. Murphy's observations are amusing and well-written, and presented in a matter-of-fact way that (generally) avoids excessiThis was a fun book to read. Murphy's observations are amusing and well-written, and presented in a matter-of-fact way that (generally) avoids excessive romanticism about Africa and Africans.
The AIDS narrative running through the book was also interesting to me, as I'd just read 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa (written in the mid 2000s) a few weeks earlier. Murphy's book provided a trip further back in time to the early 90s, before treatment was an option in Africa, and while many countries were still finding their bearings on the epidemic.
I think this was also the first travel book I've read that wasn't written by an 18-34 male: it was nice to see travel through the eyes of someone who isn't young (age garnered her fast respect and attention) or male (no underlying narrative about girlfriends or the need to get laid, hurray!).
Finally (and this may be the only downside to this book), while Murphy's experience exemplifies many of the complexities of a visit to sub-Saharan Africa, she often comes across as a touch hypocritical or selective in her judgments: - She struggles with the 'white liberal guilt' and wishes others would do more, while acknowledging that NGOs and aid programs aren't as helpful as the West wants them to be. - She is critical of the wealthy expat life, while herself enjoying the privileges of being able to travel freely, visit private hospitals, and overnight with expat friends. - She scoffs at the backpackers and overland tours travelling a well-rutted path through Africa, though she, too, is only seeing slices of African life (and she ends up in many of the same places anyway, only staying in cheaper accommodations). - She tries hard to see the "real" Africa, and really wants you to believe she is, but she too is just another visitor to the continent. (She's a mzungu, after all - doesn't matter how far off the tourist track she goes, she'll still experience life differently from the locals.)...more
If a single cause were identified, a remedy might be readily designed. It would fit neatly into a liberal or conservative prescription. If either the
If a single cause were identified, a remedy might be readily designed. It would fit neatly into a liberal or conservative prescription. If either the system's exploitation or the victims' irresponsibility were to blame, one or the other side of the debate would be satisfied. If the reasons were merely corporate greed or government indifference or impoverished schools, then liberal solutions would suffice. If the causes were only the personal failures of parents and children, then conservative views would hold. But "repression is a seamless garment," as Salman Rushdie wrote. This is repression of a kind, and it lacks clear boundaries that would define the beginning and end of accountability.
This book reinforces what, I hope, is already known by the educated audience reading this review: "working harder" is seldom the solution to poverty, and those of us who are succeeding in middle or upper class lives have reached this point not just because of our own gumption but also because of some fortuitous combination of birth, wealth, positive role models, education, stable upbringing, and good luck.
Do the poor sometimes make bad choices? Of course, and we're introduced to many throughout the book. We also see how many of those cases are simply people who've never been taught any better, who've never had the education or good role models to learn parenting skills or workplace etiquette from, who lack the services accessible to those with even a little extra money (therapy, tutoring, babysitting, etc.). Yet others are doing everything right, but due to bad fortune - car problems, a sudden illness, etc. - find themselves struggling to make any progress.
Overall, an eye-opening read, even if you already acknowledge that the solutions to poverty are more complex than political talking points boil them down to. One single, easily-applied solution will never untangle the complex web of problems and disadvantages faced by people trying to pull themselves up into prosperity. Let's acknowledge that and hold our leaders to it next budget or election. ...more
Why didn't I read this sooner? Necromancers and talking cats and best of all, an interesting female lead - all set in a fascinating world that mixes mWhy didn't I read this sooner? Necromancers and talking cats and best of all, an interesting female lead - all set in a fascinating world that mixes modernity and high fantasy. It reads like a Hobbit-esque adventure story of the best kind. Read it!...more
They fall in a nebulous grey area where I worry about speaking too highly of them in my review and painting them as perfect (which they aren't), without wanting to put undue emphasis on any flaws (none of which were enough to detract from my enjoyment of the books).
In short: I liked them, a lot. I'll definitely be seeking out more Glen Cook when I get home.
I like the writing style. Cook moves the story along at a steady clip, and the reader is expected to keep up and fill in a lot of blanks. I never got bored.
I really like that the main characters are a group of morally-ambiguous, self-serving mercenaries. Dare I say, it spoke to me. They don't take sides, they just try to lead honorable lives and make the best of things that come their way - but they aren't the now-archetypal 'anti-hero with a heart of gold' types. They do some horrible things, but somehow I never ended up entirely hating anyone.
I also like that the author treated the main female characters with respect, not making a big deal out of them but also not ignoring their gender completely.
Perhaps the only complaint I have is that, since a member of the Black Company provides the narration, we get a somewhat narrow view of the story and world. We see battle and behind-the-scenes politicking among higher-ups, but little indication of what was happening in the wider world and the effects of the war....more