Another outlandish plot. Maybe I'm too old after all. Alex is back in the hospital recovering from burns and other things. Any other 14-year-old would...moreAnother outlandish plot. Maybe I'm too old after all. Alex is back in the hospital recovering from burns and other things. Any other 14-year-old would be permanently injured, but he's the proverbial Energizer bunny. All those injuries were pretty wearing on this reader.(less)
The books are starting to get a little repetitive. The history changes, but the formula is intact. If you want a historically somewhat accurate Harleq...moreThe books are starting to get a little repetitive. The history changes, but the formula is intact. If you want a historically somewhat accurate Harlequin that is better written than most, this is the book for you. (less)
This turns out to be a story that reverberates in later books: the confrontation between Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccio and his son Toto. It's just a sh...moreThis turns out to be a story that reverberates in later books: the confrontation between Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccio and his son Toto. It's just a short scene that plays no great importance in the plot of the novel, but it sears the Marshal's life in a way he can never foget.
In it, Toto is picked up for shoplifting and the source of his school boy unhappiness comes out: the burden of being a policeman's son and the constant teasing about his goody-goody family. He hates that his father is a policeman and that he isn't rich.
It wounds the Marshal. His family life is so much more comfortable than his own childhood circumstances. He's middle-class and respectable. And he's a step above his working-class father and the frequent poverty they experienced.
Part of the wounding is that it pierces the Marshal's childhood dream. As a boy, he saw the respect that was afforded three men in his village: the priest, the marshal and the magistrate. He decided to grow up and be the Marshal. It was the culmination of his childhood longing for a better life. And his son disdains it; hates it even.
I'm not sure he ever gets over it. Many parents experience this situation with their children. They work hard to give their kids better than what they had at home and their kids turn on them, citing everything they lack compared to their friends. It pierces a lot of dreams. The parents are appalled at their children's greediness and selfishness. And while they can see the injustice of it, it stings and brings a sense of failure where none is in actual evidence.
Just like that, poof! Imperfect, unappreciative children; deeply hurt parents who are wounded in their own childhood dream of success. A tragedy worthy of Shakespeare.(less)
A book rather spectacularly misnamed. For such a fine writer, it's a poor inducement to pick up and read the book. Everything other than that is might...moreA book rather spectacularly misnamed. For such a fine writer, it's a poor inducement to pick up and read the book. Everything other than that is mighty fine in this story of late middle age.
This book illustrates the blind alleys, circular logic, dead ends, and emotional stultification that comes with the bridge of middle age into old age. It also shows in a fine light the mysteries, unexpected turns, reawakenings and last chances that life still has in store. Even for the most hardened characters there is time to reappraise, right old wrongs, and a way to light out for new territories.
Some will find the Scandinavian archipelago and Northern forests bleak. I think it's more like a character that neutralizes the outer world so that internal struggles can be revealed and resolved. In this story, the cliche is proved that old age is not for sissies. The good news is that life has left the middle-aged person well equipped to wrestle with such strong forces. There is indeed time enough for second, third and even fourth chapters before the end.(less)
I have to give this book four stars because it's a notch below the excellent "The White Lioness" by the same author. But it's very good and in some wa...moreI have to give this book four stars because it's a notch below the excellent "The White Lioness" by the same author. But it's very good and in some ways a sequel to "The White Lioness."
In "The White Lioness," Mankell shows us the globalization of crime. A murder in Skane, Sweden, ends up being tangentially related to a murder plot focused on Nelson Mandela in South Africa. In "The Man from Beijing," he gives us a multi-layered cautionary tale.
On the global scale it is a warning about carefully planned incursions by China into third-world countries in Africa while the West sleeps. On a country level, it is about the patterns and warping of human compassion in the pursuit of colonialism and nation building. On a personal level it is about those who cling to their ideals and those who abandon them in search of outrageous fortune and power.
Definitely worth reading. It leaves you with much to think about and discuss. (less)
This is the kind of contemporary writing that makes one realize there will never be shortage of remainders to fill the bargain bins at the local books...moreThis is the kind of contemporary writing that makes one realize there will never be shortage of remainders to fill the bargain bins at the local bookstore. Was it well written? Kind of. Was there a good plot? Well, no. Were the characters engaging? Definitely not. It seemed like a tired story. You know, the one where the almost middle-aged sons return home to the English manor to watch their mother die. One neurotic and needy. The other a fading soap star who has become bankrupt (in more ways than one) during his extended stay in America. Never has ordinary life been less appealing; a waste of good reading time.(less)
I had a hard time staying interested in this book. Maybe because I had read it before or maybe because I'm so much older now. The first chapters had m...moreI had a hard time staying interested in this book. Maybe because I had read it before or maybe because I'm so much older now. The first chapters had me hating the way he establishes poverty and its concomitant suffering as "good" for the artist.
This myth was very strong at the time I went to college. There was pervasive hand-wringing about whether "success" would spoil a person's creativity. This was in the heydey of this book when everyone read it at college, less than 10 years after its publication in 1964. I fell for the thinking myself. But poverty is not fun and it is not edifying. It's just a slow grind that rubs a person out.
I curse Hemingway for perpetuating this myth which seems more like a rationalization for one's suffering and the suffering it inflicts on one's dependents. But he is a good storyteller, there's no dispute about that.
He knew interesting people, other writers, and he lived in Paris at a very special time in history when Hemingway's own story was made possible. He was at the center of his time. For that, he has left a valuable record.
Finishing this book at last, I realized my recollections of first encountering this book have held true through the years. First, Hemingway tells a helluva tale and he is authentic in that he lived the life he extolls.
Second, he's not in love with the English language. He does not offer fluency, interesting vocabulary, or a beautiful turn of phrase. It's hard to find a meaningful quote to pull out these stories; nothing stands on its own. His writing is workmanlike, speeding or plodding along on the strength of the story.
Third, this is a work of recollection, at a distance. In that, it is not vibrant with a life being lived. It's a successful author reminiscing about his younger days in an autobiographical work.
Hemingway may criticize Fitzgerald for crafting stories for the masses, but I think this work may fall into that genre itself. The book is more a minor work to reinforce and enhance his persona, and a way to make a little money when he needed it. The mythical Hemingway lives here.(less)
Having read the second book in the series first, it's clear that this first book was a work in progress. The author writes significantly better in boo...moreHaving read the second book in the series first, it's clear that this first book was a work in progress. The author writes significantly better in book two. Good for her; bad for the poor reader enduring her learning process.(less)
Two main enigmatic characters are unmasked in this book. One twist turns a great villain into a smitten consort. The second twist turns a modern Engli...moreTwo main enigmatic characters are unmasked in this book. One twist turns a great villain into a smitten consort. The second twist turns a modern English lord into an open admirer of the Harvard researcher driving the story. Surely this is the equivalent Harlequinn fantasy of the very accomplished. Now that they've conquered the heights of academia, they must also land themsleves a modern-day member of the ton for a brilliant marriage. High fructose corn syrup couldn't spike the saccharine level any higher than this.
And yet, desperate woman that I am, I will keep reading to see how how an author plots across six books to create a popular franchise that keeps her in a lot more than pin money. Would it be possible to churn out a book like this a few months of the year and do what you wish the rest of the time?(less)
This is what a Harlequin romance would be if it had an original plot and good writing. The book merges the current life of a Harvard historian with li...moreThis is what a Harlequin romance would be if it had an original plot and good writing. The book merges the current life of a Harvard historian with life during the Napoleonic wars at the turn of the 19th century.
The historian has gained access to a private trove of personal papers from an English family with a long lineage. She is trying to uncover the identity of a French spy known only as the Black Tulip. In the meantime, the story focuses on the correspondence between the Pink Carnation (a female English spy embedded in the French court) and Lady Henrietta, a 17-year-old debutante who passes the encoded information on to the English War Office.
Under the guise of meaningless female drivel in the form of social correspondence and endless descriptions of dinners and parties, information is seamlessly passed from France to England. It bypasses the censors who only see the boring details of rich women's meaningless lives. It's really quite cleverly done.
It's hard to say you "like" a book like this, but you can't argue with the intelligence of the writing. It goes into minute detail of what it is like...moreIt's hard to say you "like" a book like this, but you can't argue with the intelligence of the writing. It goes into minute detail of what it is like to be kidnapped by organized crime. You live moment by moment, the agony of Contessa Olivia Brunamonti as her captors painfully blind her with tape and fill her ears with cotton and wax to deafen her from the outside world. The pain is excruciating as months go by without a word or a demand.
Her captors had originally targeted her daughter which would have been better for them. The Contessa has survived an insane husband, then rescued and rebuilt his fortunes so her children would have an inheritance. She would have done anything to get her child back.
Unfortunately, her two children are in charge and they are as weak and mad as her husband had been. Although she is eventually found and freed by the Marshal and his Carabinieri, they can't save her from the indifference of her children.(less)
This third book cycles back to the repercussions of WW II on the war's survivors and their children. Ill-gotten goods and wealth based on the misery o...moreThis third book cycles back to the repercussions of WW II on the war's survivors and their children. Ill-gotten goods and wealth based on the misery of others form the center of this story. You have to view it as a morality tale since the uneasy conscience of a war-driven scoundrel drives his life and that of his children, legitimate and not, until they are all passed away into history in modern-day Florence.
No one benefits from the riches. It prettifies their lives and in the end only makes them miserable as life's disappointments accumulate and they grow older only to become targets of the next generation of looters and ambitious men. Just like their parents, the vultures and hangers on gather to hasten their demise, a cynical gathering of those hoping to profit from the course of history. It's enough to make one ponder the legacy of a "family business."
Life repeats itself, but not in the obvious public ways of a profession or inheritance. It's character that counts. If it's not the sins of the fathers being imposed on their offspring, it's truth that will reveal the shell of a hollow soul. We naturally respond to the tragedy of a life cut short, but further revelations often lead to disgust at the wasting of life on an unholy creature.
Things pick up a little for Marshal Salva Guarnaccia in this story about the murder of a Japanese apprentice to an old-time Florentine shoe maker. The...moreThings pick up a little for Marshal Salva Guarnaccia in this story about the murder of a Japanese apprentice to an old-time Florentine shoe maker. The crime and its solution is mainly centered around a small square that is peopled with artisans, restauranteurs and other close neighbors who live and work in the small, out of the way square.
While some tourists appear looking for leather goods, it is mercifully free of the rude hordes the flock to Florence. This is the Florence I came looking for when I sought out this author. You can almost see the small trattoria where all the working-class tradesmen come for lunch everyday and you get a sense of the rhythm of their lives.
Into the office about 9 am, work to about 1 pm, take a long leisurely 2 or 3-couse meal with friends or family (and wine!), and then at least an hour's nap. Back at work at 4 pm, then home for a smaller dinner about 9 pm. I think this is a much more civilized way to live. You still get in the 8 hours of work, but it's defined in a more personal way with a few leisurely hours to yourself in mid-day.
If you gave that schedule to an American, they'd either work through "lunch" or think about taking another part-time job to fill the middle part of the day. It's hard to really grasp the essence of another culture. Especially when it's one modeled not around work, but a highly social life in a web of friends. In truth it sounds a lot like college. No wonder we look back with such fondness!
Delving into the flood of Eastern European girls who find themselves locked into prostitution in Italy, Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia tries to understa...moreDelving into the flood of Eastern European girls who find themselves locked into prostitution in Italy, Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia tries to understand how it all works. A murder opens the door.
The thinnest veneer of civility and respectability covers his main prey: a businessman using the cover of a temporary staffing agency to run a huge prostitution ring, complete with casino, strip shows and hotel. The ugly East European girls end up in menial jobs through the temp agency and the beautiful ones are turned into strippers and prostitutes.
The trick comes when the cream of Florentine society and its legal representatives (judges, prosecutors, etc.) are all patrons. In the end, the Marshal unmasks this particular operation and a dirty prosecutor, but the prostitution networks remain unimpeded. (less)