I didn't know much about the Hungarian experience leading up to and in WWII and this book set that straight. One experiences events in Hungary and Fra...moreI didn't know much about the Hungarian experience leading up to and in WWII and this book set that straight. One experiences events in Hungary and France through the life of Andras, a Hungarian Jewish student from a family of very modest means.
The year is 1937 and Andras has the opportunity to go to France to Study Architecture at a well known school. Life goes on as usual, but change is already in the air. People rarely expect life/ world altering changes in their lives and they plod on from day to day accommodating and dealing with the shifts that eventually cannot be ignored. There are many smaller stories within the larger story and one gets to know the characters quite well. I got involved with the characters lives and experienced the changes with them in this epic story of families and friends.
The characters did what they had to do to survive in an inexplicable world and they did not lose their humanity in the process. The last chapter gave me chills and made me teary but not for the reasons one may expect. Highly recommended book.(less)
This is the first Graham Green I have read and won't be the last. The reader is thrust into the struggle of the French Indochina War (which as its aft...moreThis is the first Graham Green I have read and won't be the last. The reader is thrust into the struggle of the French Indochina War (which as its aftermath divided the region into an unstable North and South Vietnam and eventually led to the Vietnam War.) In the Quiet American, a doggedly naïve, innocent and well intentioned American is out of his depth and understanding trying to manipulate a situation he is not equipped to grasp. Greene’s writing is spare and unsentimental.
I would recommend reading this with "Brief Encounters with Che Guevara", a wonderful collection of short stories I read last year by Ben Fountain. Brief Encounters deals predominantly with well-intentioned Americans who find themselves in countries such as Columbia, Sierre Leone, Haiti and Myanmar. They are idealistic and become entangled in situations of political and social conflict in countries they don't understand.(less)
I really liked the first part (roughly half) of this book about a boy (Harrison)who is being raised by a mother who eeks out an existence by sponging...moreI really liked the first part (roughly half) of this book about a boy (Harrison)who is being raised by a mother who eeks out an existence by sponging off the men she manages to ensnare. The setting is 1930's Mexico. Mexican artists Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo are an integral part of the story, as is Lev Trotsky (leader of the Bolshevik Revolution and Rivera's friend and houseguest).
The second half of the book completely switches gears. The setting is Asheville NC where Harrison is living the life of a semi-recluse and writing historical novels during the time of the Red Scare. The second half of the book was more of a lecture/essay in the thin guise of a novel. Lots of lecturing conversations and little if any subtlety. The brightest glimmer of light in the second half of the book was the no-nonsense, out- from- the- hollers Violet Brown, Harrison's secretary.
I'd give the first half of the book a 3.5 or 4 and the second half a 2 (loved Poisonwood Bible and Prodigal Summer so was disappointed).(less)
I had a very hard time deciding between 3 or 4 stars for the audio version. I think if I would have read the paper edition I...moreReview for the audiobook.
I had a very hard time deciding between 3 or 4 stars for the audio version. I think if I would have read the paper edition I would have given it another star.
I thought the reader was a bit monotonous at times. Some of the more lengthy narratives tended to drag on and struck me as rambling overviews of events- mostly later in the book. I'm not sure if I would have had the same impression or not with the book version. I suspect the ending would still have seemed a bit like a recap of events taking place (less detail) with a somewhat loose ending. I also thought some very emotional parts of the book were recounted with the same rambling narrative quality.
That said, this book is full of vivid descriptions of what it was like for 2 sisters to live in Shanghai as very hip, spoiled, privileged teenagers- then to have all that crumble away. They are forced to flee China after the Japanese invasion leading into WII. China begins it's transformation into something that could not ever be a home for the sisters. The sisters end up eeking out an existence in Chinatown, Los Angelos with their husbands through an arranged marriage.
In the course of events, we learn about atrocities of the Japanese invasion of China, Chinese family customs, the Chinese immigrant experience during a tumultuous time in American and Chinese history, paper sons, what it must be like to build your life on a house of cards, the tension between assimilation and holding onto deep rooted identities, the sacrifices that are made for survival and the strength of the human spirit.