"Beneath the Lion's Gaze" begins in 1974 during the last days of Emperor Haile Selassie's despotic rule of Ethiopia. Told through the fates of members...more"Beneath the Lion's Gaze" begins in 1974 during the last days of Emperor Haile Selassie's despotic rule of Ethiopia. Told through the fates of members of a well educated family it conveys the chaos, contradictions and violence that beset the country.
As the story starts, the people of Ethiopia are literally dying of starvation as an aged and aloof Emperor goes about business as usual. Then seemingly overnight Emperor and officials are seized, murdered or detained and a new struggle begins. The new "socialist" military regime releases undisciplined, uneducated, and mostly untrained troops upon the civilian population resulting in looting, stealing, reassigning real estate, false imprisonment, violence against women, and murder. Merciless and paranoid, the new government, backed by the Soviet Union, adds its death grip to the misery of this starving people.
Moving and enraging, we follow Hailu, a respected doctor in Addis Ababa try to save his family and his patients. He has a surgeon's eye view of the injury leveled on civilians as he attempts to save them in the local hospital while also trying to reign in members of his family who are singled out or court trouble by their actions.
A fascinating aspect of this slice of Ethiopian history is its description of the blending of Christianity and long held local beliefs. Maaza Mengiste, the author, born in Addis Ababa, has an insider's knowledge of the cultural underpinnings beneath this all too familiar story of ruthless abuse of political power, disregard for the rule of law, and contempt for the lives and aspiration of others; unfortunately the universal hallmarks of violent government takeover.
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in in learning about life in other parts of the world.
Kim Stanley Robinson uses the device of science fiction to tell the life story of Galileo in all its contradiction. From the relationships with the wo...moreKim Stanley Robinson uses the device of science fiction to tell the life story of Galileo in all its contradiction. From the relationships with the women in his life to his pursuit of patronage and social climbing, Galileo is drawn against the background of the Italy of his time with the City States vying for power with Rome and the Church, the threat of Protestantism, the general illiteracy of the common man and the ripple effect of the Ptolemaic and Aristotelian views of the universe now entrenched in church dogma. When Galileo uses his telescope to view the heavens and his intellect to calculate orbits and motion the conflict between faith and reason begins.
The science fiction piece transports Galileo to the moons of Jupiter in the far future where all possible permutations of the different possible outcomes of this conflict can be viewed. All outcomes are steeped in bloody conflict. However, viewed by posterity as "the first scientist", the outcome we know is the one producing the best result for humanity in general. Other outcomes and their consequences are also described in detail.
By painting a very human and flawed human being Robinson takes Galileo from the dusty pages of history to create the multi faceted personality that surely existed if not exactly as depicted. By illuminating the courage it took to fight against the prevailing beliefs of the powerful for the cause of rational explanation of the physical world, he speaks to our time.
"The Shanghai Girls" chronicles the lives of two sisters from their teenage years as "beautiful girls" in 1930's Shanghai, through Japanese occupation...more"The Shanghai Girls" chronicles the lives of two sisters from their teenage years as "beautiful girls" in 1930's Shanghai, through Japanese occupation then emigration to and life the United States in the 1950's.
The sisters start out in a position of privilege but their fortunes change when their father looses his business just prior to the Japanese assault on China. To settle a debt, they are forced into arranged marriages. Still willful, they ignore instructions to follow their husbands to the States which begins cycles of misfortune that seem to follow them for the rest of their lives.
Told from the perspective of the older sister, the story also tells the story of the Chinese immigrant experience. Like many groups coming to America, they face prejudice, isolation and racism. Their plight is made even more difficult by a tyrannical father-in law and experiences in war torn China.
The story reaches its climax with a highly charged confrontation between sisters. For the first time the events of the last twenty years are revealed in a new light of the younger sister's viewpoint.
Emotional and life affirming, this story is ultimately about the courage to survive against great odds and challanges. (less)
Day After Night is a novel that tells the story of women who are held in a camp at Atlit, a British-run internment camp set up in Palestine after WWII...moreDay After Night is a novel that tells the story of women who are held in a camp at Atlit, a British-run internment camp set up in Palestine after WWII. This is a holding place for these women; a space between the horrors of the past and the hope for a future.
As we are introduced to the characters we are also given glimpses into their troubled pasts. Some are survivors of the street, some were in hiding during the war, and some survived the concentration camps. But all are orphans of the storm. Their personal nightmares help explain their current emotional state.
Despite having made it so far, they are powerless to create their own futures as they await a political solution to their status and a place in which to make their homes. Their fates change when a daring escape is planned and executed.
Although the characters are fictional, the basic events are based on a real incident.
This story stayed with me for a long time. In its position as the last barrier to freedom, Atlit also represented the struggle between despair and hope, the old and the new and of course darkness and light. I highly recommend it.
It amazes me that Philipa Gregory has the ability to make the lives of well known historic persons both interesting and suspenseful. In "The Constant...moreIt amazes me that Philipa Gregory has the ability to make the lives of well known historic persons both interesting and suspenseful. In "The Constant Princess", she tells the story of young Katherine of Aragon from her formative years through her early marriage to Henry v111. A very small portion of the book is devoted to the events leading to the dissolution of her marriage later in her life.
Woven into the thread of the story are the seeds of Katherine's great stubbornness and religious certainty. As a child she watches as her mother ruthlessly and mindfully conquers and destroys Moorish Spain. Infused with a vision of her own destiny, she hangs on despite great odds when widowed at 15 or 16 when her husband and heir to the throne Arthur, dies. Setting her sights on marrying the next in line Henry, she maneuvers politically, financially and sexually over the next seven years while Henry grows into a man despite formidable obstacles.
This picture of a shrewd, patient and unwavering figure helps explain her refusal to admit defeat later in life. As is with other of Gregor's books, this version of history is told from the view of the main feminine character. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys this type of historic fiction. (less)
I picked up this book because I had little knowledge of the Elgin Marbles aside from seeing them at The British museum. In the book Karen Essex create...moreI picked up this book because I had little knowledge of the Elgin Marbles aside from seeing them at The British museum. In the book Karen Essex creates a parallel narrative of the lives of Lord and Lady Elgin and Pericles and his concubine Aspatia. The reader discovers both the motivation and drive to create these wonderful works of art and the fierce determination and obsession by Elgin to obtain them.
I found both periods well described and documented. This is a good book for anyone interested in Greek and/or British historical fiction.(less)
As is my preference with books translated into English or depicting life in a non English speaking culture, I listened to this book on CD. Hearing the...moreAs is my preference with books translated into English or depicting life in a non English speaking culture, I listened to this book on CD. Hearing the story left me able to envision the world of 14th Century Barcelona without having to struggle with pronunciation of foreign words and names.
This novel depicts the struggle for life in Medievil Spain by people shut out of the political system or on its lowest rungs. The peasants and the Jews are victomized by a parasitic nobility and a paranoid, cruel church which has unleashed terror via the inquisition. The story covers two generations of a family of peasants working to rise above their "allotted" place in society. By our standards the laws of the land at this time were at best barbaric and very foreign from our modern view of the rule of law. It foreshadows the attitudes and zealotry of the Spanish inquisition unleashed on the rest of the world in following centuries.
I found this historic novel fascinating and informative. It is wriiten in what I would consider the best tradition of the genre.(less)
This story traces the lives of several families living in the same neighborhood in Japan immediately before, during WW11 and the following occupation....moreThis story traces the lives of several families living in the same neighborhood in Japan immediately before, during WW11 and the following occupation. Gail Tsukiyama depicts how these families lives change from being comfortable before the war to rationing and deprivation during the war, from following traditional persuits to having thier lives disrupted by the military needs of the counrty, suffering through bombings and death, then coming full circle in sorting out a new community normal after the war.
A very interesting look at the lives of ordinary Japanese citizens during this time period (less)
In the last few years I have read and read about the many fictional and non fiction books about the early Mormons. In this story David Ebershoff uses...moreIn the last few years I have read and read about the many fictional and non fiction books about the early Mormons. In this story David Ebershoff uses the story of a 21st Century 19th wife to contrast with a 19th Century 19th wife each of whom might be more comfortable living in the time period of the other.
What I found most interesting about both stories of plural marriage was the author's focus on how this institution changed the character of marriage and community. According to the novel, a one on one marriage was not accecptable in the Utah settlement and families were forced to become plural. Additionally the strain on both men and women to tend to the material and emotional needs of these huge families changed the nature of relationships between parents and children. More than once a male character expresses a lament about the limitations of love and a female character is forced to choose between child, husband and the dictates of faith. An atmosphere of entrapment pervades the stories in both centuries.
This book is for anyone who is interested in American history or has an interest in dystopian societies.
Extremely moving account of the lives damaged or destroyed by the roundup of French Jews by French policeman for deportation to concentration camps du...moreExtremely moving account of the lives damaged or destroyed by the roundup of French Jews by French policeman for deportation to concentration camps during WW11. Switching between the present and the past the author creates a tension filled narrative describing the horrors of the past and the ignorance and indifference of the present. The phrase "the banality of evil" comes to mind.
An American journalist, married to a Frenchman and living in Paris, is given the assignment to write about the roundup on the 60th anniversary of that dark night. What she discovers and how it directly effects her family changes all their lives forever.(less)