This was my read on my daily NYC subway commute for a week. Having grown up in a third world country with an underfunded public transportation systemThis was my read on my daily NYC subway commute for a week. Having grown up in a third world country with an underfunded public transportation system (though not as bad as the places Hoffman chooses for his trip, mainly because it is nowhere near as poor as some of those places, nor as remote from the western world,) I know exactly how a large overnight bus hurtles into the darkness on winding, dark roads with sharp turns and barely enough space for one vehicle on the supposedly two-way road. I know the stench of many men and women who have not bathed for a week in a crowded bus, the holler of bus "boys," and bus drivers that fall asleep and swerve in and out in busy two-way highways (In fact, this happened in Mexico recently, from D. F. to Oaxaca... After the incident, two men took turns talking to the driver to keep him awake for the rest of the trip.) I know how interesting it is to board a bus with a bunch of guys with machetes... for crops, of course. And to think all of my travels were on pretty expensive, not-so-bad public transportation vehicles...
Hoffman captures the worst of the worst in his book with a candid eye. Perhaps what shocks him most is the lack of personal space and the amount of dirt everywhere, even more than the horrendous mortality rates. He is hugged by many men from across the world in their daily, dirty, unwashed outfits; his hand is held by many men, he drinks Vodka with Russian thugs on a train, he eats anything and everything served to him on every filthy transportation vehicle (and you know he is a seasoned traveler, as he only gets sick from the food once,) and he has vivid bathroom scenes to describe with piles of frozen or steaming shit everywhere. What amazes him most is how warm, delightful, helpful, friendly people are in most of the places he visits, how strangers watch out for him and his belongings, how they are willing to share their daily commuter experiences with him, how they will not let him pay for the food even though he is filthy rich compared to them. What amazes me is that Hoffman is amazed at any of this. He admits in several places in the book that Americans think the world revolves around them, and how could he not? He cannot communicate much with anyone unless they understand English, he has no idea how important Hz. Ali is in Islam, he tries to shake hands with a woman wearing a burqa... But he always means well, and he is always humbled by the kindness of strangers.
The parallel narrative to the travel is how Hoffman is in the process of destroying his marriage of 15 years. How he craves human contact yet runs away from it, how he is immersed in close contact with the people of the world on crowded and dangerous transportation vehicles yet utterly alone and distant. He whines a lot and there is some self-pity mixed in with awe at how the poor in the world live so together with their immediate and extended families. The poor have nothing but their kin. The several feet of personal space required by westerners is reduced to nil, and people find the proximity comforting. It holds them up, it is a way of life, it is a necessity. What to do?
I do not recommend this book to anyone who has serious phobias about cars, buses, planes, ferries, ships, trains, or any travel in general. I would urge all westerners and especially those New Yorkers who cannot appreciate the most efficient and comprehensive city public transport system in the USA to read this book. ...more
I wanted to read this book. I entered the giveaway on Goodreads. I did not win. But I was sent a pdf of the book anyway, which was very very nice. SoI wanted to read this book. I entered the giveaway on Goodreads. I did not win. But I was sent a pdf of the book anyway, which was very very nice. So I got to read it after all. Now, looking at the 5-star reviews, I feel a bit strange thinking that perhaps I missed something. I did not think the letters in the book were that extreme or unusual or shocking. Neither did I think that the authors tried to be subtle in their intention to shock and thrill, which ruined it for me. Perhaps a strong point, though I am not sure if it is intentional (not that it makes a difference), was that each letter seemed to have its own voice. Some letters were interesting to think about....more
It's difficult to describe the experience of reading H is for Hawk. How can a book be a slow-burning contemplation on life and a page turner at the saIt's difficult to describe the experience of reading H is for Hawk. How can a book be a slow-burning contemplation on life and a page turner at the same time? Well, it is. Things happen, oh, so many things, but nothing really happens, it seems, nothing that you can put your finger on, point at and say, "See, things are different now." It is as if everything is in suspension, a slow motion that reveals itself only after the fact. Except for those moments Mabel cuts through the air with her precise incisions, following her instinct after some invisible game. It's those moments that precipitate all else that's happening. It's like the drink that's absent in the glass until the water is added, and then the glass is full of milky white turbulence. I found myself grabbing the book with both hands, waiting for everything to settle down after the rush.
Recommended for fans of hunting birds, life, and death. Also recommended for those who like to play with paper balls and magazines rolled up into telescopes. ...more
The Marauders is a close study of a small community past the point of devastation after Katrina and an oil spill that extinguished any hope of ever reThe Marauders is a close study of a small community past the point of devastation after Katrina and an oil spill that extinguished any hope of ever re-building. That said, the lives under scrutiny reflect differently the light that shines on them, though all seem to have a tinge of desperation, and some already drowned and done. Arguably the most likable characters, the ones that I found myself rooting for in the end, are Wes and Lindquist, and maybe Cosgrove, but even the despicable Toup twins and the BP guy, Grimes, have their moments that can make the heart ache, if you will. All that within the framework of the daily toil of shrimping, a pirate treasure hunt, wildlife rescue mission, and of course, a drug dispute...
I liked especially that Lindquist's demise was left unknown (I can see him living it up somewhere tropical, still with his metal detector...), and though foreshadowed, the campaign Grimes would raise against his employer never took place in the time frame of the novel.
All in all, The Marauders is a page turner, not necessarily because a lot happens, but just because the hope for the end of desperation never dies as the reader is drawn into the quixotic mission of the one-armed mad man, the much anticipated turning point of the young man who has to build his own shrimping boat, and the idiotic misadventures of two ex-cons.
Thanks to LibraryThing and the publisher for a free copy of the novel for my honest review....more
Little did I know that The HUmans was the perfect fiction read after I finished Cynthia Barnett's Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. The nameless aLittle did I know that The HUmans was the perfect fiction read after I finished Cynthia Barnett's Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. The nameless alien, who is sent to Earth to kill the professor to keep humans from advancing further and to contain their violent and greedy natures from spreading into the rest of the universe, hates rain, you see. This made for some hilarious and poignant observations about rain, a subject which humans have written quite a lot about, especially during the Little Ice Age in Europe (I am citing Barnett here.)
The book has a humor gradient. Humor is amped up at the beginning, with most situations leading to something hilarious and even absurd, and as the alien starts to like humans and become like them, it seems that he loses his sense of humor. This is only natural, as he has some strange emotional stuff to deal with, especially considering he is new even to emotion itself. I liked that our alien did not become the perfect human. I liked that he didn't learn everything all at once. I liked that he had some profound observations about human nature, rain, dogs, love, sex, and music. But I do think towards the end the book started to become too profound, like the author was trying too hard. I didn't like the list of advice alien/dad left for Gulliver, for example. It was repetitive, and it tried too hard. I am not sure if I like the ending, hinting at all things turning out rosy. Perhaps a new love would have been better, less sentimental, more realistic. It is difficult to imagine a mother let an alien and a confessed murderer of three people (and one alien) be the father of her child (although we all do know it happens, so it is not impossible.)
It was very nice to see such homage to Emily Dickinson and poetry in general.
Recommended for those who like or hate rain, who wonder about aliens, and who love dogs and Emily Dickinson.