Masada is a very manly tale of a community of Jewish zealots resisting extinction by the Roman empire. Hopelessly outnumbered, they worked to eke out...moreMasada is a very manly tale of a community of Jewish zealots resisting extinction by the Roman empire. Hopelessly outnumbered, they worked to eke out a living in an unforgiving desert horst next to the Dead Sea. It's got everything -- brutal battles, bravery in the face of annihilation, and making the tough choice between true freedom and mere existence.
It is in this background that Alice Hoffman decided to tell a story of four women.
Where the tale of Masada is built on open rebellion, each of the four protagonists have their secrets. Masada shines as a beacon for believing in something, while Yael and the rest all live in comparative obscurity. Their battles are personal, and are fought through subversion and words unspoken. The book has been compared favorably to The Mists of Avalon for its historical re-imagining of a war epic, and I think that's accurate.
The language of The Dovekeepers is unadorned, and it derives much of its power through symbolism. A lion collapses dead after cutting a man across his face. Yael's mother comes to her in dreams as a flame tree. Horses are led to Masada with blinders on, lest they panic and fall. And the doves themselves mirror the entire encampment: as they thrive and suffer in their cotes, so do the 900 men and women living together on a barren rock.
The plot unfolds slowly, carefully, full of foreshadowing and flashes of haunting brilliance. Hoffman is a virtuosic storyteller, and this tale of rebellion and uncompromising principle is served well by her talents.(less)
I don't often gravitate towards books about World War II -- the events have been picked apart in so many ways by so many authors that it seems there's...moreI don't often gravitate towards books about World War II -- the events have been picked apart in so many ways by so many authors that it seems there's nothing new that could possibly be said about the whole thing. And this book didn't change my opinion on that (Zamperini's story has been told, many many times before), but I'll be damned if it wasn't one of the most thrilling books I've read this year.
Divided cleanly into five parts, Unbroken tells the story of Louis Zamperini, and all the unfathomable things that he persevered through during his years as a POW in Japan. Through the ups and downs (and downs... and downs), Hillenbrand paints such riveting scenes that I had trouble putting the thing down.
A large portion of the book is taken up by Louie's experience as a captive of the Japanese. And though most of his years in Japan were spent doing the same thing, day after day, Hillenbrand kept the pace going (even when most days opened with "Louie was skeletal, dehydrated, and near death").
This was an immensely quick read where almost every page contained some incredible feat, prank, inhumanity, or testament to the human spirit. I look forward to the movie and smirking at all the stuff they'll have to leave out to make it more "believable."(less)
Great book, terrible cover. Starts to lose focus as games went global in the mid-90's, but that's because so much happened so quickly in so many place...moreGreat book, terrible cover. Starts to lose focus as games went global in the mid-90's, but that's because so much happened so quickly in so many places.(less)
The first problem came from how this book was sold to me: it's the next "Girl With a Dragon Tattoo," "Steig Larsson redux,"...moreSo I read this book wrong.
The first problem came from how this book was sold to me: it's the next "Girl With a Dragon Tattoo," "Steig Larsson redux," etc. The only thing that links the books are violence against women and Scandanavia.
The second problem I had was when I read "antihero alcoholic detective," I imagined Robbie Coltrane's character in Cracker -- which made for a very distorted few chapters before I realized my mistake.
In any case, Jo Nesbø's English breakout novel (the seventh in the series, although only the first thirty or so pages would clue you in to this) is a tightly-plotted chase after Norway's first serial killer. False leads, flashes of insight, and very human derring-do forced me to stay up past my bedtime to find out what happened.
I didn't find myself lost when bludgeoned by numerøus Norwegian chåräcters, though I did occasionally found myself bludgeoned by sentences such as "The owner of Leon Hotel was Børre Hansen, from Solør, in the east, with skin as greyish-white as the slush the so-called guests brought in on their shoes and left on the worn parquet floor by the counter underneath the sign saying RESEPTION in black letters." But it's all in good fun; crime novels seem to become more endearing the more they embrace grammatical freedom.
I'll be sure to check out the other books in the series, but it seems pretty clear to me that they can work as individual stories without too much work on the reader's end.(less)
In his first book, Good-Bye, Chunky Rice, he told multiple stories of loss through the metaphor of a ship bo...moreCraig Thompson is a man who loves stories.
In his first book, Good-Bye, Chunky Rice, he told multiple stories of loss through the metaphor of a ship bound for the sea. In his second, Blankets, he told stories of his own upbringing, culminating in his first love and his questioning his own faith in the Bible. And in his latest opus, Habibi, Thompson tells a modern-day fable that starts in a modernist wasteland and reaches all the way back to the beginning of monotheism itself.
Though the book's focus is on the life stories of two people as their paths intertwine and their love blooms, it's ostensibly about stories. Stories on how we view the world, how the same tale gets changed and altered through telling it. And in Habibi, the words used to tell the stories become tales themselves. A magic square holds the key to understanding life. Calligraphy shows the interconnectedness of man and legend. Names are fluid and carry baggage from thousands of generations.
Craig Thompson has been working on this book for seven years, and it shows. Every page is bursting with ornamentation and symbolism that brings you into its world. The numerology and analysis of monotheistic heritage help give the book a launching pad to raise the tale above a typical love story, and the pace and non-linear flow gave the entire work a confident, deliberate feel.
I've read criticism of this work -- namely that the atrocities perpetrated on the characters are so numerous that it interrupted the flow entirely. We understand the power of the female form, and how it relates to the jinn. To be reminded of this repeatedly throughout the book seemed more like figure study than advancing the plot.
But when I finished, I wanted to learn more -- more about Zam and Dodola. More about the etymology of Habibi, and more about the interplay between the four elements. More about Wanatolia and how man destroyed the environment around it. And isn't that what great stories are supposed to do?
Thompson has the metaphorical prowess of Will Eisner and nested sorytelling chops of Gaiman. I just wish he wouldn't take seven years to release a book.(less)