This is the fictional story of scientist Norton Perina's adventures in the fictional islands of U'ivu, the research that developed from his time there...moreThis is the fictional story of scientist Norton Perina's adventures in the fictional islands of U'ivu, the research that developed from his time there, his ethical breaches, awkward social relationships, and unsettling personal life. This book begs the question...
"If a great man does unspeakable things, is he still a great man?"
This book is loosely drawn fromt he life of Nobel laureate Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, who won a Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976 for his work on the infectious brain disease kuru, which was prevalent among the South Fore people of New Guinea, and who was later convicted of child molestation in 1996.
Norton was something of a scientific misfit, not respected among his peers, young and inexperienced. Then one day he is sent to the remote Micronesian country of U'ivu, for what reason he does not know. He soon discovers that he is to assist anthropologist Paul Tallent, who is searching for a mysterious tribe that lives on Ivu'ivu, the most remote of the islands of U'ivu.
While on the island, they discover this "forgotten" tribe of U'ivuans on the island of Ivu'ivu who appear to have abnormally long lifespans that are triple the norm or longer, living 200 or 300 years or more. And Norton theorizes that their long life is connected to their ingestion of a certain turtle. However the same individuals who live extraordinarily long lives are also lost to a serious mental degradation that leaves them stumbling around with severe cases of a condition resembling Alzheimer's.
This book follows Norton over the decades, shifting from his childhood to his professional life, and then ending on a more personal note.
Considering that this novel is written in the form of a memoir, you have to give the fictional character of Norton Perina credit for his honesty. He is unabashed, as a child, in his frank exposure of himself, his thoughts and motivations. He is unapologetic. Well, occasionally he makes excuses, blaming everyone but himself. Other times he accepts responsibility for events, but doesn't really apologize for them. He is simply stating the way it was.
Later on Norton begins adopting children from the islands of U'ivu, as things there begin to degrade. Eventually he adopts a total of something like 40 children, offering them a chance at a better life.
My final word: I found this story to be intriguing, and it kept me wondering how it would all play out. However I found it did read something like the scientific memoir it was presented as. None of the characters are especially likable, but the story keeps pulling you along, dying to know how this will all play out. By the end of the story, as you are welcomed into Norton's personal life, you find yourself squirming in your seat, sort of uncomfortable in your own skin, almost physically cringing. Was it a fun read? No. At moments it could be touching or beautiful, but often it was awkward, uncomfortable, disturbing and a little stiff. But it was also fascinating, peculiar, and felt almost "profound". I really enjoyed it, despite being left with a bad aftertaste. It's an unsettling story, but read it anyway.(less)
This book briefly covers the life of Fahim Fazli in Afghanistan, but mostly covers his escape from Afghanistan as a refugee, his struggle to achieve s...moreThis book briefly covers the life of Fahim Fazli in Afghanistan, but mostly covers his escape from Afghanistan as a refugee, his struggle to achieve success in Hollywood, and his desire to serve both his adopted country and his native land as a linguist with the Marines in Afghanistan.
Born in Afghanistan, Fahim found himself attempting to survive in a country where he risked relocation to Russia for "re-education". At 12 years of age, he was living in a city invaded by Russia. He, his father and his younger brother had not heard from his mother, older brother or sisters for four years, as they had already escaped to the U.S. Fahim's father Jamil made the decision to take his boys to Pakistan, with hopes of later making it to America.
It was a trek fraught with danger, and there were some near misses. Much of their escape was done on foot, guided by a "coyote", a person who guides people out of the country for a fee. In Peshawar, Fahim found himself faced with armed Taliban fighters patrolling the streets with AK-47s. Once in Peshawar, Fahim was eager to get to America.
You feel for the woman who gave birth to Fahim. Born in a male-dominated country, married off at the age of 16, she is described as an intelligent and driven woman who wanted to be a doctor in a country where women are doomed to lives as housewives and maids and never anything more-- without choice. A woman with strong opinions and desires, she was always at odds with Fahim's father, and there was much yelling and fighting in the Fazli household when Fahim was growing up.
However the woman was no saint. Raised in a culture that believes that "Number One Son" is the favorite, and "Number Two Son" is the "Miserable Son", she could be brutal and cruel in her words to her second son Fahim at times. But there was a lot about her to respect, and she was very beloved by her son.
Fahim was raised with a heavy hand, as is common in Afghanistan. I remember author Andrea Busfield once describing in her book Born Under a Million Shadows (which takes place in Afghanistan) that "...in the streets the adults beat boys, the boys beat smaller boys, and everyone beats donkeys and dogs."
My final word: Fahim brings better understanding to the issue of the Taliban and what it has been like under their regime. The writing is very simple and straightforward-- not flowery or overly expressive-- but the storytelling is engaging and enlightening, exposing a side of Hollywood with which I was unfamiliar... the "in"-side. Fahim's story offers more clarity on the people of Afghanistan, how the Taliban came to power, and what refugees would go through in order to get their families to safety. Fahim is a strong man of conviction, yet kind and affable, and his warmth comes through in the telling of his story, albeit the writing style can be a little stiff, possibly due to him being assisted by military writer Michael Moffett. However I found the book to be a worthwhile read.(less)