I wish to register most strongly in public my dismay to see the already ludicrously large number of fake accounts that have been set up to give 1 star...moreI wish to register most strongly in public my dismay to see the already ludicrously large number of fake accounts that have been set up to give 1 star ratings to this book.
I have written to goodreads to ask what they are going to do about it. As far as I can see, it is against their avowed policies. In this case it seems particularly important that they are seen to do the right thing, since there is the unfortunate fact that it may be argued to be in their interests for this book to receive a low rating - however this occurs.
But this aside, in any case, if goodreads permits an author or a book to be bullied in this way, how can they possibly see a future as a promoter of authors and their works, which is now their business model?
As far as I can see, Goodreads is being threatened with damage to their integrity from which it is hard to imagine a recovery unless this is addressed now.
Hey thanks, Manny. I hate violence, historical fiction makes me throw up, I stopped reading adventure books when I was twelve and Viking gods bored me...moreHey thanks, Manny. I hate violence, historical fiction makes me throw up, I stopped reading adventure books when I was twelve and Viking gods bored me to tears when I was going through my pagan gods stage in primary school and - WOW....you've given me The Long Ships for my Birthday. That's so - well, I'm just lost for words - of you. What? Yes, I can see it was a big concession, really you wanted to get it in Swedish and I could put it on my list of languages I have to learn. And no, even though I adore knitting, really, this is so much better than that amazing pattern book I was admiring the other day. Truly. It's even better than that text book on computer humour you got me last year. What? Yes, good point, I can't really say that until I've read the book on computer humour, but you read it and so I heard a lot about it. In fact, I must remember to put that on my 'books I've lived through' shelf.
Arrgghhhhhhhhhhh!! Finally our hero has sex for the first time and...
It's a complete fucking cockup.
Or rather, even worse, it isn't. Quite the opposit...moreArrgghhhhhhhhhhh!! Finally our hero has sex for the first time and...
It's a complete fucking cockup.
Or rather, even worse, it isn't. Quite the opposite if the truth be told. Truth? 'It's a novel' I say to Manny this morning. 'Ha. That's what they all say.'
I am truly shocked by the fact that not one review of this exists, not even a precis of the book or a picture of the cover on goodreads.
But grist to my mill, of course. The utterly pathetic you-all-should-be hanging-your-heads-in-shame-that-you-only-read-the-fashionable and that the period of 20-40 years before the present is always despised for NO GOOD REASON. Not even a bad reason.
I'm missing something here. I had absolutely no empathy with or sympathy for the main character, I have no picture of him in my head, I didn't believe...moreI'm missing something here. I had absolutely no empathy with or sympathy for the main character, I have no picture of him in my head, I didn't believe in him, I didn't understand him. I didn't care about him or any of those around him.
My conclusion is that this is not well written. It paints a rich picture of the Poland of the period; though I have no idea if it is historically accurate, it was at least interesting. That seems to be the strength of the author and the point of his work. In this book, at least, he has signally failed to create a character. I'd love to see the movie, Alan Arkin is a great actor, and I couldn't help thinking that it would work better on the screen.
In short, disappointed. If you want to read a good book about an artist who can't keep his dick in his pants, even more unpleasant, but nonetheless makes you feel for him every step of the way, try Simenon's The Heart of the Man.(less)
If you wish to fill a couple of hours of your life with a nicely written weepie, this is for you. Is it a novella? It is 140 small pages, large margin...moreIf you wish to fill a couple of hours of your life with a nicely written weepie, this is for you. Is it a novella? It is 140 small pages, large margins, double-spaced text. I've certainly read lots of 'short stories' this length.
It does consider a dilemma I've often wondered about. There are those quick deaths - one moment you are vacuuming or cooking dinner, next moment finito la musica. Death displaces life and you scarcely even have time to register it. There are the long ones, where you know for years what is going to happen and death simply becomes part of life, which goes on much as it had before.
Then there is finding out you have one month give or take, as the doctor says to Ambrose. I tried to make this sound better: 40,320 minutes. What do you do then? It makes me weep just thinking about it. Again. I had a friend to whom this happened. We were on the phone, we asked him to dinner, he said he couldn't for precisely that reason. He had 30 days, that was his news. There were so many things for which there was no longer time. We did see him for a coffee visit one morning during that 30 days, but in retrospect I feel terribly guilty about having taken that time from him, we just weren't important enough in his life to have justified 60 of those 40,320 minutes. Maybe, since you very devoutly believed in God despite this shitty situation, you will be reading this and if so, accept my apology, Richard.
This is Ambrose's account of those thirty days he discovered he had left. Completely different from my friend Richard's. Just as heart-breaking.
I'm a bit uneasy about this one. Yes I read it over a couple of days. But after book one, it isn't likely to have the same impact and doesn't. It's mo...moreI'm a bit uneasy about this one. Yes I read it over a couple of days. But after book one, it isn't likely to have the same impact and doesn't. It's more of the same, please picture impassioned words here about how important it might be to read. I did all that for the first one, maybe I just say 'ditto' here?
I'm on a roll with Dick. I'm undecided as to whether this one is saying anything important, but it is really clever. It manages to do creationism, mul...moreI'm on a roll with Dick. I'm undecided as to whether this one is saying anything important, but it is really clever. It manages to do creationism, multiverse AND be a whole lot of fun at the same time.(less)
Fuck. I have to retract two stars and my rave review. I mean, clearly it was a rave. I'd say this book loses the plot about half way through, but to b...moreFuck. I have to retract two stars and my rave review. I mean, clearly it was a rave. I'd say this book loses the plot about half way through, but to be fair, there isn't really a plot. Once the book leaves Japan and finds its home in Basque land, it rapidly becomes close to unbearable. I am afraid that whilst I savoured the first half, the second I ended up just skimming. I have way too many good books on the shelf to be spending precious time on this one.
I am leaving my half-cocked first discussion of this as it, testimony to my idiocy. It follows.
I’m only half way through, but my opinion will not change. This is a clear-as-day 5-star book and that’s from a fussy star attributor.
After having to read – or start, at least – popular best sellers of late which are so badly written: Harry P., the third volume (and the others?) of Northern Lights, the Dragon Tattoo trilogy – it is a vast relief to be reminded that a book can be both finely written and unputdownable fun, thrilling and thoughtful. It can even be propagandist, if it is done the right way.
Now that I think of it, is this a pattern: HP, NL, DT are all volumes produced ad infinitum. Shibumi could easily be like that, dragged out for ever, but instead it is one, standalone book. And boy, does it stand alone. Class of its own.
This, quoted from Trevanian’s own site:
Q: Americans are reading lots of books, but at least anecdotally it appears they are reading blockbusters and that smaller, literary titles are being pushed to the margins. Do you see a similar trend in Europe, and what impact will this have?
A: Alas, yes, it’s coming to Europe as well and it’s a great pity. A lot of excellent new writers will never get read. This is hardest on the story-tellers of America, because writers of attractively-packaged fact and history are still doing fairly well, although even these readerships are dwindling, captured by the internet and by the electronic games that consume so much of the time of the kinds of kids who used to read history and science.
The shadow of ‘literary globalization’ is falling across all of western Europe, and will hit the English-writing countries first, as English is the language of commerce, and therefore it’s the foreign language of preference for the teeming populations whose five hundred word vocabularies limit them to language on a comic book level. Hence Barbara Cartland is still the most popular English language writer in India. And I’ve heard there is a similar dumbing-down impulse at home, where a series of children’s books by a very canny English writer is the most popular read on American campuses.
Does this mean that HP, NL and DT had to be badly written? That although Shibumi was a best seller in its day, late seventies, now it would not survive, it is too intelligent and well written? The point is not that they are reading blockbusters, but that once upon a time these blockbusters were well crafted things, at least if this book is any guide. In fact, Shibumi has been an eye-opener for me. I have been sticking up for some of these books lately when clearly I should not have been. But if Manny is correct in suggesting, as Trevanian is also observing, that English is going through a period of simplification and that this is the consequence, badly written tripe being lapped up by the reading public, what a tragedy. I can’t imagine a world in which we have lost the capacity to say interesting things, because we have had the linguistic skills necessary to do so taken away by generations of illiterate facebookers and smsers.
I expect there will be more to come here after I have finished the book, but for now, I thought it was interesting to read what the author had to say later about his opinion on Israel and its neighbours:
Q:Since I first read Shibumi and then reread it twenty years later, my opinion of the Israeli-Palestinian situation has changed entirely, as a result of becoming much better informed...Has your opinion in this regard at all changed since Shibumi has been published?
A:I hope there are many Americans who can remain flexible through the fog of prejudice and fear about this issue.
Things have changed almost entirely in Israel/Palestine over the nearly thirty years since I wrote Shibumi: the underdogs have become the bullies, and intractable fundamentalists call the shots in Israel; what in Shibumi we called the Mother Company (the Petro-chemical Mafia) have inserted their creature into the White House; and the greatest potential for ecological disaster is no longer man's lazy thirst for oil, but rather his soaring over-population.
Nicholas Hel would not have lent his support to the current leaders of Israel. He would have wished the current rational leaders of Palestine all good fortune in negotiating towards peace with justice, now that Arafat is no longer in the way. (Footnote: Arafat's end has all the marks of an inside job, almost surely with the assistance of the second bureau. Israel, of course, knew what was going on, and it's likely that they informed the United States, but that's not sure. It's hard to put limits on the incompetence of American intelligence services. Each time we find a lower value, they prove they can fail even that; so Israel might not have informed us early enough for us to get our clumsy hands into things and mess them up.)
What should America do now? Using such tatters of even-handedness as we still possess, we should guide (drag, if necessary) the Israelis into as fair and honest a sharing of land and water as is possible. Then we must open our hands and carefully step back, out of Middle East affairs, turning them over to the United Nations.
I wonder when this was written, it shows an unlikely trust in the United Nations, which in my opinion, is shamefully bereft of moral purpose.
Oh, and this: I must take issue with all my friends who have reviewed this. It is not just a fun book, or a thriller. It is a very strongly felt position about how we are living and how we should live. This book manages to hammer and hammer and hammer this message home, whilst making you feel like you are 'just reading a best seller'. That he has managed to write something so entirely enjoyable whilst doing this is such a feat, I am completely in awe of it. (less)
You can criticise Dick all you like for being wrong about flying cars, or thinking the LP record was for ever (note: it isn't?), but he is writing sci...moreYou can criticise Dick all you like for being wrong about flying cars, or thinking the LP record was for ever (note: it isn't?), but he is writing science fiction and, as Ray Bradbury points out far more eloquently than will I, that is about ideas. It isn't about sentence construction, plot or character development. If you wanted to, it is easy enough to criticise this book on all these counts, but so what? Why would you bother? What matters is....
Some basic facts about Winnie the Pooh and the Divine Comedy.
(1) Have you ever tried looking up Winnie on proje...moreFor the final of Celebrity Death Match.
Some basic facts about Winnie the Pooh and the Divine Comedy.
(1) Have you ever tried looking up Winnie on project Gutenberg? You find that Dante gets a few thousand hits and Winnie gets none. NONE!!! And you know why? Because Disney bullied Congress years ago into being allowed to keep the copyright longer than was their legal right. And you know why they did that? Of course it is because everybody loves Winnie. Try this, if you don't believe me. Offer the copyright to The Divine Comedy to Disney for ten bucks.
(2) Have you ever tried shopping for Dante sheets? Cursor? Wallpaper - both hard and soft? Mice? Toilet paper? Colouring-in books? Dante stuffed animals? Interactive game sites?
(3) google The Divine Comedy and you get 3M hits. google Winnie the Pooh and you get 58M (numbers rounded down, to Dante's advantage).
Democracy, ladies and gentlemen. The world has voted. Celebrity death match can scarcely go against figures like these.
(4) When I was in Grade three, about seven years old, we were set as English comprehension:
"Compare and contrast the following passages"
The start of the Divine Comedy:
His glory, by whose might all things are mov'd, Pierces the universe, and in one part Sheds more resplendence, elsewhere less. In heav'n, That largeliest of his light partakes, was I, Witness of things, which to relate again Surpasseth power of him who comes from thence; For that, so near approaching its desire Our intellect is to such depth absorb'd, That memory cannot follow. Nathless all, That in my thoughts I of that sacred realm Could store, shall now be matter of my song.
and a poem by Pooh:
I lay on my chest And I thought it best To pretend I was having a evening rest; I lay on my tum And I tried to hum But nothing particular seemed to come My face was flat On the floor, and that Is all very well for an acrobat; But it doesn't seem fair To a Friendly Bear To stiffen him out with a backet-chair. And sort of squoze Which grows and grows Is not too nice for his poor old nose, And sort of squch Is much to much For his neck and his mouth and his ears and such.
I discussed all the obvious points, the sheer boredom of reading Dante, his inability to call a rhyme. Naturally I compared Pooh favourably with Shakespeare, making the point like others before me, I expect, that they were both inventors of words, that they revelled in the joyous playfullness of language.
The coup of my essay, however, was revealing the sociological experiment carried out by my mother. Whilst I was sweetly put to sleep with Pooh each night, my poor brother was served up Dante. He has never recovered from the trauma of it. To him going to bed at night is to be avoided at all costs. Anything but that. And in a truly despicable example of what happens when one is raised on Dante, my mother once found that my brother had hanged his teddy bear.
Sometimes you read a book that makes you feel ashamed of your life, every time you thought you were unlucky or...moreReviewed in conjunction with La Douleur
Sometimes you read a book that makes you feel ashamed of your life, every time you thought you were unlucky or that you deserve more or that you should get more. Whatever you have suffered, however genuine it be, suddenly becomes as nothing, its place clearly fixed in the universe as the measliest dot the world ever has seen. Roughneck does that. It describes a portion of his life in the pared down, straightforward way Thompson tells all his stories. Nothing is oversized, filled with extra words so that you can feel like you are getting more than you paid for. You are, of course. But not in word count.
As is so often the case, the small story about a few, packs so much more punch than big numbers. This one starts before the Great Depression and takes us through that period. Not that I should be calling it a story. I groaned when I realised I’d picked up an autobiography, not a novel. Live life, don’t read about others, p-llllease. But I was too mean not to read it, serves me right for not looking carefully when I bought it. And before two pages were up I was goggle-eyed, gaping-mouthed hooked.
The man’s a genius. He can even make biography bearable. I’m not going to review this, for the simple reason that I’m not worthy too. The human suffering he writes about, what Americans did to Americans, even white Americans to white Americans, would be demeaned by anything I said about it. I don’t think I ever realised so clearly the extent to which poverty and wealth create the same barriers, the same hate as race or religion, maybe even worse. Watching the way wealthy Americans treated those they were exploiting in this period made my stomach churn. I think that’s the most incredible aspect of it. It is so easy to understand poor people might hate rich. But this book brings home the other side of this and it is truly ghastly to watch.
This is a wildy entertaining book, but it is about people who were rich, watching, exploiting and being despicable to their poor neighbours. It is about people unnecessarily half starving, living in the most desperate circumstances and heart in mouth hoping they pull through. It makes you ashamed to be human.
So I thought.
But then, I hadn’t picked up La Douleur yet.
‘Shit.’ That is what I did say out loud, irritated when I picked this up, the very next book after Roughneck. Another hasty purchase, another %$^#$ autobiography. A slightly wanky one, if it comes to that, I felt as I started it – after the plain matteroffactness of Thompson, Duras seemed on the hysterically dramatic side.
Then again, who wouldn’t be? Thompson writes about the half starved. Duras writes of the 95% starved. I don’t know how to put that. People who are literally skin and bones as they come back, those few who do, from the camps of Nazi Germany, people who are so close to death that food is going to kill them as surely as lack of it will, people whose skeletons can’t bear the tiny weight on them. I have no way of describing the horrors recorded here and to quote bits and pieces would seem plain disrespectful.
I did need some pages to adjust to the girly, introspective way Duras sets out her story here, but then, it was never supposed to be a story, not like that. It was what she wrote at the time for herself, trying to hang on to what was left of her sanity as she waited for her husband to come back during the period in which the prisoners were set free from the Nazi camps. She has some moments of marvelous acidity as she describes how some of the French take advantage of the new political situation. She is no friend of de Gaulle, who sounds like a right creep the way she tells it.
It turned out that being ashamed of America in the Depression wasn’t the half of it.
Lately I seem to keep on – completely coincidentally – reading books that pair each other in some significant way and here again, it’s happened. It’s an odd request, but I’m making it. These books go together. Get them and read them back to back. It’ll be totally worth it, I promise! (less)
Let me preface slightly critical remarks by saying this is a hard-to-put-down thriller. His science fiction is so much better than his other stuff. No...moreLet me preface slightly critical remarks by saying this is a hard-to-put-down thriller. His science fiction is so much better than his other stuff. Not for one moment do I have to consciously suspend disbelief. Never does he fall into this category which Randall puts so well that I'm just going to recyle his succinct observation yet again:
Banks makes up worlds, concepts, laws, forms of life, cultures and societies, he gives them all names and it all seems so natural. How splendid is that.
Again, I do not understand why his science fiction is not turned into films. They'd be spectacular, but they'd have plots and good dialogue and - is this the reason why?
The only thing that niggles me about this is that it was obvious from very early what the denouement was going to be. I don't suppose that matters, maybe the reader was supposed to know? But for me it made the last fifty or so pages a little disappointing.
I thought there were slightly messy aspects to the plot which may or may not matter. Considering that the Huhsz are the motivators for the story, it seemed to me they figured in an almost incidental way. Maybe I've missed something there. But with Solipsists and Useless Kings and a host of others tumbling in and out of this story, crowding it with laughs, however dark it also gets, a slightness of Huhsz is neither here nor there, I guess. I dare say something had to give. The thing is 500 pages long as it is.
What churlish knitpicking. Reading Banks lately has made me receptive to the idea of reading science fiction again, when I really thought those days were over a very long time ago. I could scarcely be more impressed.(less)
Well, I didn’t know what it would be like. I’m Australian, I’ve never seen fucken snow before. So I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and here I am, in...moreWell, I didn’t know what it would be like. I’m Australian, I’ve never seen fucken snow before. So I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and here I am, in Geneva in the snow and I have to say I have a pretty good idea of how Scott felt now.
My knitting group meets about an eight minute walk away, I set out way way early and I’d done my research, but like Scott, mistakes were made.
For a start I brought the wrong dogs. They were rubbish sled-pullers. And when I decided en route that I had to kill one of them for food, I should have noticed that the Manor Food store was just across the street from me…Sushi or pizza would have been so much simpler.
I’ll bet Scott had a conversation something like this when he was setting out:
Scott’s mother: Walter Raleigh Scott, you come back here right now. Right now. Scott hops off the sled, goes to front door. Scott’s mother: What have you forgotten to say before you go? Scott thinks about this. Ummm. Thanks for the sandwiches? Scott’s mother: Exactly. It’s a mom’s job isn’t it? You boys just go out galavanting in the snow, having fun while moms are home making the sandwiches and endlessly hoovering. And don’t you forget it. Scott can see his fellow explorers in the sled, possibly laughing at him. Ummm. Gotta go now Mom. Scott’s mother: Not yet young man. And what have you forgotten? The same thing as last time and the time before? Scott looks at the sled which is just full of stuff and shrugs. I dunno, Mom. What? Scott’s mother: Your jumper, you big wally. Honestly. What would you all do without Mom? Scott finally escapes as Mom yells her parting words: And don't you be two years late for dinner like last time. It's the last meal I'll be cooking for you, I'm just telling you that right now.
Well nobody said that to me and I was halfway down the street before I noticed I didn’t have a jumper on. The dogs refused to turn around, like it was their problem? I should have eaten the lot of them.
But finally I do arrive. So I’m at Starbucks, get out of my sled and start tying it up to a tree when somebody in a uniform says ‘What are you doing?’ I say ‘Going to my knitting group’ and he says ‘No, that’s not what I mean, I mean there, what’s that?’ I don’t speak French. It’s possible he said ‘What the fuck’s that?’ He looked a bit like that’s what he meant to say. Is this guy a complete idiot, I ask myself. ‘H-e-lllooo. It’s my sled? Snow? Sled?’ Even in Australia we get the snow sled thing. I start wondering if maybe he’s Austrian or something. (Little joke to solicit votes from any Swiss goodreaders looking at this.) At this point I handed him my parking permit for ‘sled and eight dogs’ ahem, albeit seven at this point. My pre-trip research indicated that Swiss love documentation. Indeed, he looked a bit surprised, as well he might. I bought it for five bucks at a fakeIDonline site. But still, he was happy now. He even tried patting the dogs, which was a mistake on his part.
Damn. I’m not feeling all that great, I’ve just been checking wiki and it transpires I completely got the eating dog thing arse about. I thought the part you had to eat was the liver. It turns out that’s the only bit you mustn’t eat. Fuck. The ambulance is on its way – I’ll –
Earlier this month a royal pardon on behalf of Breaker Morant was refused.
This edition of the book came out in 1907 and was immediately mostly destro...moreEarlier this month a royal pardon on behalf of Breaker Morant was refused.
This edition of the book came out in 1907 and was immediately mostly destroyed by the government. So were the next edition or two printed that year. In all probably only a few copies of this book exist*. In Australia in 2008 a copy of the first edition sold for approximately $5000.
You can read the book online at Gutenberg. Even better see the movie!
Saw the movie last night and although it was a 'true' story - sigh - and set in a prison, which I try to avoid, still thoroughly enjoyable.
I expect ei...moreSaw the movie last night and although it was a 'true' story - sigh - and set in a prison, which I try to avoid, still thoroughly enjoyable.
I expect either the book or the film would be sufficient.
I suspect the book happens before the end. The protagonist is no more than a conman, steals money, pretends to be a lawyer, escapes from gaol a bunch of times. At the end of the film they tell us that after his last escape he was sentenced to LIFE imprisonment with 23 hour/day lockdown. Wow. I keep wondering how he is going to get out of that.(less)
(1) He uses the ‘as if’ simile all the time. What is the point of this odious practice and from where did it spring? Is it because writers...more
(1) He uses the ‘as if’ simile all the time. What is the point of this odious practice and from where did it spring? Is it because writers think we are idiots or because they don’t have the skill to write it in another way? This one is p. 2 of the story proper and really gave me the pip:
That time of year the sun lingers in the sky for only six hours, scurrying from hoizon to horizon as if spooked.
That piece of smartarsery almost had me put the book on the ‘moving along right now shelf’. It doesn’t ring a chord, it has the ‘as if’, and I object to the juxtaposition of the words ‘lingers’ and ‘scurrying’.
Page two and I’m in a bad mood already, but something keeps the book in my hand.
(2) He pretends that this is based on the true story of his grandfather. I know I have put this in a way the author would deny, but I find it dubious practice to say the least to give the lead character the same name as the writer’s. He is on record as saying:
It’s a great hook, your “grandfather,” but isn’t it a bit misleading? [My publishers] said, “You can be really coy about it, just don’t lie.” But I want to be up-front about it. I sent an e-mail to my editor when the James Frey scandal broke, saying, “I promise I’m never going to send you anything that’s not a complete work of fiction.” NYMag.com
I have no idea what that is supposed to mean, it seems to me, it lies in the same vein as the Frey book. Perhaps, this being his second novel, he was overanxious to make sure it sold. If this is ‘upfront’, after the event, after it has been purchased and reviewed and read, to make this statement, then Frey was no less upfront, though he had to be dragged there.’Upfront’ would have been a clear explanation on the book itself. Back cover, for example.
The fact is that not only simple readers, but professional reviewers, considered this book to be the work of a chap writing about his grandfather, and since the made-up writer in the book is called David, has the same surname and has the same occupation, this is not surprising. I checked a few of the reviews of which small parts were blurbs for the cover of the edition I read, and at least two of them – Publishers Weekly, no less, and Booklist Online, - both expressed the ‘fact’ that this was a book written by an author about his grandfather. If the author was intending the start of this book to be no more than a wanky literary artifice, both he and his editors have miserably failed.
And there is this, from the NYT review:
Who knows. In a recent interview, Benioff said the novel’s first chapter was pure invention — that all four of his grandparents were born in the United States. But in the bound galleys of the novel he thanked his grandfather for his “patience with my late-night phone calls” about the blockade. The final version of the book doesn’t carry that acknowledgment. What gives?
What gives, indeed. I am really very uneasy about what the author did here and why. I am also curious as to why nobody seems to have taken the trouble to do the simple checks that would establish the truth of the matter.
So far that is one false start each, mine and the author’s.
Let’s try again.
The fact is that none of this really matters. What matters is that this is a five star read. I was hoping Chabon might have commented on it somewhere as it is a story, and that, if you look at the books people seem to want to read, is still what counts. There is a modern trend, and undoubtedly there is a cognoscenti on goodreads which supports this, to turn one’s nose up at the story. One not only can write a novel without a story, but one should. A story line is passe. Characters are passe. It’s all about technique and doing clever shit with words. This was a NY Times Bestseller, and without particularly understanding what that means, I guess it is in the august company of Harry Potter, Hunger Games, the Dragon Tattoo – books which tell stories. Not only that, it is told with an economy of style – a mere 250 pages or so – without feeling like he’s saving his words up for the next book. Both story and execution – ‘as ifs’ aside – are impeccable. This is unputdownable – I read the entire book while being rather sick for the last day – utterly entertaining, whilst talking about the period in the history of the world which for rich white folk is their shame unlike any other.
World War Two is not a story, it is an infinite number of stories that will never end. I’ve listened to any number of them straight from the horses’ mouths. The Australian spending years in the horrors of Changi. The Pole who escaped a concentration camp leading a group of children not much younger than he was to safety. The American physicist who started life as a Jewish boy escaping France and landing on his own in the US mid-war. The Pole who walked to St Petersburg to lend support. The thing all the stories relentlessly have in common is that they can’t really, properly tell their story. It’s the shared shame – or shame that one should be feeling shame – it is the luck that is impossible ever to celebrate or talk about with a smile on one’s face. So a story like this, just a story, a made-up piece of fiction coming out of the head of a chap who hopes it’ll become a NYT bestseller, in my opinion becomes part of this history of that period. It says stuff you aren’t going to get from history books, you aren’t going to get from biographies, you aren’t going to get from sitting next to a survivor of this period, holding their hand and saying ‘tell me’. (less)