This is the sad yet beautiful, poignant true story of three Aboriginal girls who were taken from their families and tribe during the Australian govern...moreThis is the sad yet beautiful, poignant true story of three Aboriginal girls who were taken from their families and tribe during the Australian government's policy of removing children, educating them to be servants and working towards a goal of assimilation by wiping out their genes – the entire race, eventually – through inter-racial marriage. They had found that within three generations of breeding with whites, the children are blond and blue-eyed. Today these children are known as the Stolen Generation.
Set in Western Australia in the 1930s, the story is about three cousins – Molly, 14; Daisy, 11; and Gracie, 8 – who are forcibly taken from their tribe and home at Jigalong in the north-west to the Moore River Native Settlement just north of Perth. In Western Australia are two rabbit-proof fences that run north-south, and east of Perth, to keep the rabbits out of the farmland (Europeans deliberately introduced rabbits to Australia, where they have been a plague ever since). It’s the longest fence of its kind in the world.
The settlement the three girls are taken to is one of many designed to eradicate their cultural heritage – they’re forbidden to speak their native tongue – and mould them into good servants. It’s a cruel and punitive place. They escape the school and, barefoot and without provisions, undertake to walk 1,600 kilometres home by following the rabbit-proof fence, which runs past Jigalong. White men and black trackers follow them and planes search for them from above while they hid and trekked through scrub, rock and salt plains. The girls made the historic journey only to be taken back to the settlement.
The first five chapters give background and historical context for the story, as well as an understanding of Aboriginal culture and their thoughts and feelings. There’s also an appendix of Aboriginal words used in the story.
It’s a harrowing survival story of historic proportions that was made into a wonderful movie with breath-taking cinematography. Either the book or the movie would be great to use. The connections between the way the Australian Aborigines and the Canadian First Nations people were treated through government policy and settlements/residential schools add context and perspective to the history of either country. The fact that it’s a true story and an historical story, as well as an extraordinary feat, makes it a powerful story.
Written by Molly's daughter Nugi Garimara, whose "white" name is Doris Pilkington, the movie is also a must-see - the breath-taking cinemetagraphy helps balance out the sadness, and the young actors are excellent. It's yet another painful chapter in Australia's history, but one that shouldn't be ignored. (less)
In the 1990s Sierra Leone, a small country in West Africa, found itself sinking into a very bloody internal war between corrupt government soldiers an...moreIn the 1990s Sierra Leone, a small country in West Africa, found itself sinking into a very bloody internal war between corrupt government soldiers and armed rebels. It lasted at least ten years, and while now the country is stable and has a booming tourism industry, during the war countless innocent civilians were slaughtered and hundreds of boys were recruited by both sides.
Ishmael is twelve when the rebels arrive at his small mining town in the south-west, not so far from the ocean. He is with his older brother, Junior, and their friends at a nearby town when the attack happens, and he is separated from his parents and younger brother, never to see them again. People are mowed down as they run, fleeing one town for another with the rebels not far behind.
So begins a long journey for Ishmael as he tries to survive and stay alive. Food is hard to come by, and he has so many near-misses with death - not just at the hands of the rebels, but other villagers who are suspicious of him - that if this weren't a memoir you would never believe it. More than once, the tapes of American rap music save his life. Ironic, huh?
He is recruited into the government's army, given an AK-47 and becomes addicted to several kinds of drugs, including cocaine, that the lieutenant hands out. He hardly sleeps, has loads of energy, and his migraines have stopped. He becomes a junior sergeant and leads his small unit of boys - some of these recruited boys are as young as 7 and can barely lift their guns - into laying ambushes and attacks on villages. At one point, he encounters a rebel group of boys just like his, and like all the other squirmishes it is a fight to the death.
A Long Way Gone tells Ishmael's story, from the moment his home is destroyed, to being rehabilitated, representing other child soldiers at a UN conference and finally finding a new home in America. It is an interesting read on many levels. It is at the same time both simplistic and complex, distant and intense, coldly factual and emotionally harrowing. Throughout it all I kept reminding myself, "He's twelve"; "He's thirteen" and so on. Sometimes Bael's writing has the mature tone of a reflective adult, but generally the style is reminiscent of a report a 15-year-old might make for school. While this is a simplistic way to write anything, it could also be the only way he could write it. It is fact, not embellishment. He was deeply scarred and traumatised by all the things he'd seen and done during the war, and that's not something you can write fancifully about. It also renders it coldly brutal in its accuracy.
Some people have complained that if it had delved into the political etc. situation, the circumstances behind the war, it would have been more interesting. I disagree, though it certainly made me curious about what was going on. This is not that type of memoir, and if that's what they were expecting then they have some very strange expectations of former child soldiers. On the contrary, this is the side of the war you usually don't get to see. It humanises it, in a way, and desensitises it. It's one thing to see this kind of thing on the telly, another to be pulled into a personal story as sad and frightening as this one. The very fact of the often unemotional writing (not dry or dull, but with a protective layer to shield the author) makes it all the more believable and heart-breaking.
His speech at the UN conference brought tears to my eyes - not because it was poetic or profound or a great piece of oratory skill, but because it was straight-forward, from the mouth of a child who had lived through a kind of hell. His experiences didn't exactly make him older - not at first - but they certainly made him wild for a time. Bael doesn't dwell too much on his experiences as a soldier, it is more a balanced account of how he got into such a situation, what it did to him, and how he got out of it. Even then, he doesn't really explain how he shook off the mentality of a child soldier and became "rehabilitated". He also doesn't explain how he made it to America the second time - here I, perhaps suspiciously, feel US immigration wouldn't want that in a book; or maybe Bael just didn't feel it had any relevance. Still, I was taken rather by surprised when the story stopped.
In short, A Long Way Gone is a powerful, visceral account of what happens when you give a scared but resourceful boy a big fucking gun and teach him how to kill people and be proud of it. It also shows with painful clarity the truly pointless aspects of this kind of war - of any war, true, but this kind especially, where those involved lose their sense of humanity and feel nothing for killing innocent bystanders, or burning people in their homes, or raping, looting and terrifying, all in the name of freeing the country from someone else doing exactly the same things. It makes no sense. It is hell on earth. (less)
This is only the second Hemingway book I've read, the other being Fiesta (or, The Sun Also Rises) which I quite enjoyed except for the ending. True at...moreThis is only the second Hemingway book I've read, the other being Fiesta (or, The Sun Also Rises) which I quite enjoyed except for the ending. True at First Light is an account of his second safari in Africa, in 1953, with his fourth wife, Mary, which he wrote a year later. It was first published posthumously by his son Patrick, who edited it from a much longer manuscript. This is all in the introduction by Patrick Hemingway, which is best to read first. There's also a handy list of characters and glossary of common native words, though a few were left out which was annoying.
The story isn't just about him and his wife shooting lions and wildebeest etc. There's also the subplot of - wait for it - Hemingway being "engaged" to a young African woman, Debba, giving gifts to her parents so he can sleep with her, while Mary says she doesn't mind as long as he loves her more. Yeah right, in your sick fantasies you dirty old man. I don't know that he's a reliable narrator - and this is a "fictional" memoir, so. Seriously though, he was essentially on holiday and he's playing fast and loose with a tribe's culture, taking advantage of their polygamous society with no intention of hanging around (though he does reassure one of the Africans on safari with him, that he will care for whatever child Debba has, but still, he's hardly planning on hanging around).
Meanwhile, Mary's determined to kill a particular lion that goes for domestic herd animals and has caused problems for the natives - some effort is made by Hemingway to let us know the only lions and leopards etc. they shoot are ones that are dangerous and they've received complaints against, and he also mentions the scam that is the safari for rich people, and the white hunter who doesn't want lots of animals killed simply because that'd be the end of their money-making venture.
Mary's been hunting this particular lion for months, and has to kill it before "the birth of the Baby Jesus". She's picked the Christmas tree that she wants, unaware of what kind of tree it is - one that'd get an elephant drunk for two days if it ate it!
To be fair, there is humour in this book, though most of it is mocking and taking advantage of the African's perceived ignorance. Hemingway has devised his own religion, and makes up the rules as he goes along. He means to portray himself as sympathetic and understanding to the situation in Africa, but he's still very superior (and, as I mentioned before, taking advantage of them).
The prose is rather interesting - he's written it with continuous use of the run-on sentence, which gives it a childlike quality. He sounds younger than he is, almost naive at times. You know the kind of writing I mean - here's an example:
I wanted to say that I felt good and very relaxed and a little sleepy and did not feel much like talking and would have prefered fresh meat to spaghetti but had not wished to kill anything and that I was worried about all three of my children for different causes and that I was worried about the Shamba and I was a little worried about G.C. and quite worried about Mary and that I was a fake as a good witch doctor, but no more a fake that the others were, and that I wished Mr. Singh would keep out of trouble and that I hoped the operation we were committed in as from Christmas Day would go well and that I had some more 220 grain solids and that Simenon would write fewer and better books. (page 137-8)
Maybe he was trying to capture the simplicity and raw natural qualities of Africa, to reflect the place in the prose, but if so I don't think it's a good match at all. In readability terms, it makes it often quite difficult, to know who is the subject of the sentence, and what he was talking about at the beginning because by the time you get to the end you've forgotten.
There was also a section where I got very frustrated and angry and if I didn't treasure books so much may have gone all Office Space on it: after Mary's anticlimactic lion-shooting, which upsets her, Hemingway seems irritated by her reaction and starts talking about a time on a Reservation in the US where he shot his horse and then lay in wait under some junipers, killing a bear and several eagles that come along to eat the horse. He talks about this like we should think he's Mr Sensitive. I couldn't follow what he was talking about very well at all, to be frank. It didn't make much sense. I was also confused by him talking about eagles being condemned - I would've thought they'd be protected. I'm sure in Australia they are. Maybe they weren't in the early 20th century?
Regardless, there are some parts where he gets quite introspective and philosophical, which mostly make sense; and others where he takes the piss out of the natives in stretches of dialogue where it becomes hard to tell who's speaking; and yes, he is terrible at writing women. He spends no time understanding Debba, who seems to have no personality whatsoever, and Mary is as he sees her, which is superficially. He also mentions a girl he fancies back home (he's quite the womaniser), who has "great Negroe legs". Yes, it's rather dated.
For all that, I kinda enjoyed it, but I should have given myself more time to read it because although it's short in length, it's a slow read, and sometimes confusing, and plenty of times provoking. Apparently it's a rather controversial book - I came across some "reviews" by Hemingway fans that essentially said this book should never have been published. But I don't know why not. Perhaps because too many people hated it and it makes the rest of his work look bad?? Still, I love this cover, it's very light and fresh and really situates the story well. (less)
It's become a cliché, but true nonetheless, that when faced with something big and scary, something that makes us feel both angry and impotent, we alw...moreIt's become a cliché, but true nonetheless, that when faced with something big and scary, something that makes us feel both angry and impotent, we always think and say we are too small in the scheme of things, that we are just one person, we couldn't do anything to help with those things, and so we never try. We make excuses in order to live with ourselves, because we know X is wrong, we can see the big picture and some of the long-running implications and consequences, we care, we want to scream our frustration at times at the injustice of it and we want to enact change - but we feel helpless to do it. Volunteering with an organisation, donating time or money or what's needed to a charity - these are things we can do. For some people, it appeases their conscience and they never think of making any changes in their own lives; saying they care and buying the Organics label is enough for them.
But there are people out there who didn't make those time-worn excuses to themselves, but instead made a promise to themselves and kept it. It sounds cheesy to say "So-and-so made the world a better place for these people"; we also, if we are sensitive to it, become wary and judgemental for fear we white people are being all colonial on the brown people - blundering in, taking over, thinking we know what's best for them just like we always do, and trying to make them more like us.
So there are two things you should know about Greg Mortenson: he started something that became huge and changed the lives of thousands of children and adults in one of the most remote and poverty-stricken areas in the world, without lots of money or even much help from fellow white people (but plenty from the locals); and he managed to do it without trying to change the people, their traditions and beliefs or their way of life. In fact, he learnt more from them than he ever could have taught them.
Truthfully, I was wary too - here we have an American who, after failing to reach the summit of K2 in Pakistan, becomes lost on his way back down and ends up in a small village called Korphe. The villagers take him in without question, help him regain his strength, and he ends up staying and putting into practice all his nurse training - the village is so poor and so isolated the people can die from simple things. He wants to repay them by giving them something they are lacking: when the village headman, Haji Ali, shows him where the children are scratching in the dirt on a windblown ledge under the tutelage of a teacher who hasn't been paid by the government in a year, and tells Mortenson that it's the school, Greg knows he has to do something to help.
It's one thing to promise someone you'll build a school for them, another entirely to make it happen. Mortenson worked odd shifts at a hospital so he could take off to go mountain-climbing when he wanted to. He didn't have any money. He didn't know any rich people. He had not connections. He lived in his old yellow car, on a cheap and nasty diet, renting a typewriter (this is 1993) to write letters to several hundred influential people, like Oprah Winfrey. His mother worked at a primary school and after he came and gave a talk to the children, they saved their pennies and donated them to help build Korphe's school - over six hundred dollars.
It wasn't until a rich old man heard of what Greg was trying to do through their mutual mountain climbing friends and donated the money he needed in one fell swoop - twelve thousand dollars - that Mortenson felt like he could actually keep his promise to Haji Ali and Korphe's children. Yet it was only the first step in what proved to be a very long and complicated road that only his determination and selfless dedication saw him complete. Along the way, every setback you could think and more (including a kidnapping) are thrown Greg's way, and it's really due to the kind of person he is that he didn't give up. A new non-profit organisation, the Central Asia Institute, began and many more schools were built, and continue to be built - and by making it a community endeavour, with the villagers themselves working to build them and Mortenson supplying the funds and helping to organise the project, it became very much a matter of the people helping themselves.
Greg is a big man all over - tall, broad, and with a big heart. So say all the people interviewed by journalist David Oliver Relin, and I believe them. In terms of size, Mortenson is heavy-footed. But in terms of intelligence, sensitivity and determination, he's a gentle giant (another quote). Terribly shy, he nonetheless becomes fluent in the Balti language (the remote area of Pakistan that he first works in is called Baltistan) and learns both the Shia and the Sunni traditions of prayer, dress etc. He goes to some of the most formidable, frightening places in Pakistan and Afghanistan to see if the people are interested in helping him build a school, and along the way his determination shifts: from caring on a small scale for the people of Korphe and the nearby villages and wanting to help them achieve their dream of an education, to deeply believing that the answer to the problems in the region - including terrorism - is education, especially for girls. And I couldn't agree more.
Several times during this book I felt my chin wobble and my eyes ache: I really wanted to cry. If I'd been at home I would have, but it's never a good idea for a woman to start crying on the subway. It's not because it's necessarily a sad or tragic book, and it's certainly not manipulative - that only makes me pissed off. No, it's because it makes you feel at once tiny in a big scary world, and like your heart is bigger than your whole body, and it aches. It aches at the enormity of Mortenson's simple idea; it aches at what people in the world endure through economic policies designed to make rich countries richer; it aches to hear Korphe's first female graduate share her plans to get a medical degree; it aches for those poor (literally) boys whose only chance at an education in some places is through madrassas where they are taught to fight and kill; it aches at the world, both the goodness in it and the short-sighted, narrow-minded, greedy, corrupting badness.
Because it was written by a journalist, it's much more readable than if Mortenson had tried to write it himself. There are still some rough patches, but overall I found it engrossing. I absolutely loved the first half, reading about how it all began. It's the kind of thing I always want to know, and even though Mortenson has the advantage of being male in a traditional Islamic country which undoubtedly helped, it was actually reassuring to hear that a "regular" person with no capital could make something happen through sweat and determination. It's inspiring (and it's sad I don't say that much).
It does shy away from delving into the political side of things, and even the historical side. There are passing mentions of America's involvement in helping the Taliban get the Soviets out of Afghanistan, and Mortenson does make an effort to bring the Washington politicians to task about the truth of the war in its early days. But this isn't a book about that; rather, it can provide detailed and personal insight into the people, culture and problems of the region, humanise it for us, and hopefully do some good that way. It is not a critical examination of the practices of colonialism, either in Pakistan's history (it was once part of British-India) or in its present, but it shows more than tells or passes judgement. Descriptions of the European, American, Canadian, Australian and Kiwi mountain climbers traipsing through and leaving their shit (literally) all over the place, speaks loud and clear. The world is a fucked-up place, at times, and it's mostly our fault - we can't go back and change anything; we can only work with what's left and stop shitting all over it. In the meantime, books like this will help educate in their own way, even if those to whom the ideas aren't new, and who realise that it's deeply complex, might be motivated by it to read more deeply into the issue. It really just whets the appetite.
It's not without faults, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this, it's one of those bestsellers that as soon as you've read it you know exactly why it's done so well and are happy for it (have you noticed in yourself a slight penchant for resenting bestsellers, like Life of Pi, until you cave and read it and join right in? Yeah I do that). The message that Mortenson is trying to get people to hear is still timely and probably will be for a long time to come, until our governments wise up to the importance of a balanced education in fighting the kind of fear, anger and religious fundamentalism bred by ignorance, instead of bombs and neo-liberal economic policies (if you're interested in that side of things, I recommend Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine.
Originally published in France in four separate volumes, and later in the US in two, The Complete Persepolis brings them all together for the first ti...moreOriginally published in France in four separate volumes, and later in the US in two, The Complete Persepolis brings them all together for the first time. It is the story of the author's youth, growing up in revolutionary Iran before moving to Austria at 14, and then later returning to Iran before escaping again, this time to France, where she still lives.
Her story is both familiar and alien - a story of being a child enjoying her childhood during the revolution of '79, and how it impacted on her life; learning about the history of her country, the religious hypocrisy, the regime; being a teenager in the 80s in Europe, delving into pot and nihilism, trying to find a place in the world but never really fitting in.
The story is often funny, and the method of telling it in comic-strip style suits it perfectly. There's not a wasted panel, and the illustrations add layers to the dialogue and exposition captions. While it's also a very controlling method - in that, because graphics are supplied, you're not really able to imagine it freely on your own - there's so much in the details, and so much feeling in the illustrations, that I'm reminded of that saying, "a picture speaks a thousand words".
It was fascinating to learn about what Iran's been through from someone who's lived through it - I used to read a lot of those books written by women in Iran and Saudi Arabia, but they lacked a broader scope of understanding, and exposure to foreign political ideology and perspective. Satrapi read a lot of philosophers etc., and while some of her youthful ideologies are captured with a degree of irony, she still had a clear understanding of the situation - aided by her free-thinking parents and her wonderful grandmother.
While I had trouble in the beginning keeping up with the history of Iran's political leaders, which I found confusing, the story is easy to follow and is a great way to introduce people to the reality of Iran - up to the mid-1990s anyway. The hypocrisies, contrasts, day-to-day living, life-style, dreams and ambitions are all rendered in clear, distinctive black-and-white illustrations and laced with irony. There were many moments were I laughed myself silly, and other moments that were poignant and sad, but always, always, Satrapi is brutally honest with herself and her readers. Highly recommended. (less)
This is a book I would probably have never known about if it hadn't been for a little workshop I attended during my teaching degree. Which would have...moreThis is a book I would probably have never known about if it hadn't been for a little workshop I attended during my teaching degree. Which would have been a sad loss for me, because this is an excellent book, vivid and educational, emotional and honest, a book that brings a complex and confusing war into your lap, at the same time beautiful in its artistic skill, and heart-wrenching in the agony of its story.
Goražde (pronounced "go-RAJH-duh") is a town in Bosnia, which used to be part of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia has a confusing history, but it essentially came into being after the Second World War. It was made up of Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia achieved independence in 1991 after their own battles, leaving Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro as a "rump" Yugoslavia. The population was made up of three distinct ethnic and religious groups: Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, all living together harmoniously until political leaders began stirring up discontent:
Little more than a decade after Tito's death in 1980, Yugoslavia began to come apart, and the driving figure in the break-up and the tragedies that followed was the man who would become Serbia's president, Slobodan Milosevic. He had exploited and encouraged Serb nationalism and sense of victimhood to consolidate his power in Serbia and extend his influence over Serbs living in the other republics. (p. 36)
A brutal era of ethnic cleansing ensued, and several different and equally vicious armies formed. The scary thing about this war is that there was no clear "good guy, bad guy" dichotomy. The Allies won WWII, and so Hitler is the "bad guy". Serbia comes across as the clear "bad guy" in this war, and yet all sides of the conflict were committing atrocities. This is the story of the town of Goražde, though, and it seems clear the people and refugees living there were victims. The Serbs and Muslims had lived together peacefully for a long time, until, with war brewing, it became dangerous to do so. The Serb population left as the Serbian army began annexing great chunks of Bosnia, and the Muslims who remained in this and other small towns in the area barely survived three years of bloody war.
The UN declared a few places "safe areas", but this story is also the story of UN failure to enforce peace and protect people - just as they failed in Rwanda. Every time genocide occurs, we say "never again". And then it happens again, and we shake our heads and Tsk while people in important positions make bad decisions or no decisions. And people begin to die, horrifically and needlessly.
This book is also Joe Sacco's personal account, as a journalist, of his trips to Goražde, the friends he made there, and the stories he recorded which make up the bulk of this book. He's a character in his own novel, so we get the contrasting Western perspective, but having the visuals brings home to the reader (so much more so than words ever could) not just what it was like, but how non-alien the Bosnian people are - these aren't people we can look at and not find familiar, like the Afghans (you know we do this, even if not consciously). They live like "we" do, they wear the same clothes, go to university, all that is familiar to us. If anything, it becomes all the more tragic for it. We can so easily distance ourselves from images of war in the Middle East or Africa, but seeing images of war in a place like Bosnia is like seeing war in Canada, or England, or France or America or Australia. These might not be rich countries, but it gives you a healthy jolt and reminder of what racial discrimination - and religious discrimination - can lead to if you let a few prominent people loudly draw lines between groups, separating people based on religious and racial lines, creating an "us vs. them" dichotomy.
Goražde was a town cut off and isolated from the rest of Bosnia, often attacked by Serb nationalists, but it survived. Many others did not, and the entire Muslim populations of towns were massacred. In Goražde, Sacco made friends with a university student, Edin, who had been very close to finishing his PhD before the war started and now taught maths, intermittently, to the students in Goražde. His proficiency in English made him an excellent guide and translator, but Sacco made friends with other men and women in the town, as well as with some of the refugees. The story has an unusual structure, one that seems chaotic and jumbled, moving back and forth in time, from place to place, with no apparent sense of order. It does make it hard to grasp the time frame or remember whereabouts you are, but it also helps break up the stories of atrocities with seeing how people are surviving in the "present".
The complexity of the book itself is further compounded by how terribly complex the situation of the Bosnian War itself was. It's hard to keep all the different groups straight in my head, though I think re-reading it would help.
One of the things that really impressed me were the drawings themselves, the graphics. It must have taken Sacco years: the level of detail in them is extraordinary. So, even though I found the structure of the book sometimes hard to follow, and the political situation can get confusing, Sacco still did a really good job at explaining things, giving stories context and perspective as well as a personal human element through the voices of the survivors.
Safe Area Goražde took me a month to read mostly because it's so much to take in, so tragic, so horrible to think of us all going about our lives while this was going on. I vaguely remember it from when I was a teen, but - and this is a failing of the education system, in my opinion - we never looked into it in any class. No teacher tried to explain what was going on, or incorporated it into their curriculum as a kind of case study. Which is a shame. But I've found that teachers are much better at that these days, and have seen English teachers, for example, use story boards (graphic novel interpretations) as ways for students to interpret books they've read, like A Thousand Splendid Suns. You could use this book in many ways in the school system, either just a page or two or the entire thing. It's graphic format makes it a highly accessible historical text.
The war in Bosnia has become a kind of "forgotten war", a genocide that has slipped from the public consciousness. How can we even think that it will not happen again, if we pretend it didn't happen in Bosnia in the 1990s? Shame on us.(less)
The older brother of author Augusten Burroughs, John Elder Robison grew up in a dysfunctional household with an abusive, drunken father and an insane...moreThe older brother of author Augusten Burroughs, John Elder Robison grew up in a dysfunctional household with an abusive, drunken father and an insane mother - and undiagnosed Asperger's. He details his life growing up and handling a conditon he didn't know he had until 1990 - several years after the condition was identified and named. Asperger's is on the spectrum of Autism.
Despite higher-than-average intelligence and a liking for practical jokes, John Elder's childhood was lonely and unpleasant. His inability to look people in the eye, his problems with social interactions and saying the "right" thing, alienated him. He dropped out of school at fifteen and became a music engineer for a band, then worked on Pink Floyd's gear and ended up designing the light guitars and exploding guitars for KISS, a band he toured with for several years.
Switching to Milton Bradley, the toy manufacturer, he tried fitting in and being part of the corporate ladder but finally decided it wasn't worth his unhappiness and started his own fine automobile service business. Two wives, one child and a diagnosis later, Robison is much more content with himself than he was growing up, and after the first release of his memoir, he discovered that pretty much everyone experiences similar feelings of loneliness and alienation, and don't fit in as well as they think they should.
It's an amazing story and a wonderful opportunity to see inside the head of someone with Asperger's. The difference between the way an Aspergian thinks and the way non-Aspergians think comes across in the writing, which also makes it harder to read.
The story jumps around a lot, and new phases of life or people's names are dropped in without introduction or priming, which makes it hard to follow at times. The funny thing about it is, Robison likes logic, but his story doesn't always follow logically. I'm very organised, and I would have liked the story to read more coherently. At the same time, I wouldn't want to mould his voice or make him write to a standard structure, because it's a memoir and we would completely lose who Robison really is. So as much as I would wish for a book that suited me, I am grateful to read Robison's story in his authentic voice, even if it did make it hard to get through.
Robison has led and will probably continue to lead a very colourful life. Some of the things he got up to are surprising - like setting up fake cocaine lines in his office at MB and filming one of the top managers sneaking in to steal it. Told mostly in chronological form, it does jump back and forth a bit and it wasn't always apparent how old he was or at what stage of his life something happened in - the markers weren't always there, so it seemed like things were happening all at once. That's what I mean by making it more organised!
It did give me an insight into Asperger's, though everyone's different and Robison is not a template for the condition. It's a thoughtful, personal story, musing about the human mind and society and showing just how similar we are, at the end of the day.(less)
After seeing the movie Julie & Julia, it was Julia Child's story that interested me. Her incredible enthusiasm and lust for life was, if not infec...moreAfter seeing the movie Julie & Julia, it was Julia Child's story that interested me. Her incredible enthusiasm and lust for life was, if not infectious, then admirable. And having spent a measly two weeks in France a few years ago, I dearly wanted to revisit - I can't afford the actual trip, but I could afford the book! I wasn't able to find a copy without the movie cover, sadly, but still.
If you've seen the movie then you're familiar with the book, only there's a lot more in the book than they put in the movie (though Nora Ephron did an excellent job on the screenplay). Between 1948 and 1954 Julia Child lived with her husband Paul, a US government diplomat, in Paris and Marseilles, were afterwards moved to Norway before returning to America when Paul retired at 60. When they first arrived in France, Julia knew nothing about cooking and couldn't even make scrambled eggs correctly. She falls so heavily in love with French food that she's motivated to learn - at Cordon Bleu, the famous chef school. From there she and two French friends start a cooking school for American women, and then helps them with their cookbook - French cooking for American housewives, the first of its kind. So begins Julia's career in cooking and cookbooks and, back in America, television.
Told with impressive detail, My Life in France resurrects this time in her life with gusto. You really feel like you're right there with her. Sadly, a lot has changed - she says it herself - but the flavour is all still there. There are some great scenes and some fascinating insights - I loved the "quiet" moments as much as the intense ones: describing a new apartment or the house they had built in the country, describing the food and how to make it (I especially loved learning about French food), and just her thought-processes. You really come to know and love Julia, who is loud, boisterous, exuberant, intelligent, thoughtful, appreciative, gracious - it helps that we have some things or opinions in common (and plenty that we don't!).
Her husband Paul's black and white photos illustrate the story, and I loved seeing Paris in the 40s and 50s. It sometimes reminded me a little of Hemmingway's Fiesta - lots of ex-pat Americans drinking and talking loudly and taking over restaurants and bars; but far less obnoxious!
It definitely leaves you feeling a tad sad - nostalgic not only for Julia and Paul's life but also for the-world-as-it-was, and France-as-it-was. There are some things we've really lost in the name of "progress". It's also a great celebration of life, and yes, I confess, I did go out and take a look at The Book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking - I am tempted to get a copy, but I'm also intimidated at the same time. And there are some French things I really refuse to eat, like foie gras, which Julia eats a lot of in the book. (less)